An estimated 6,227 pedestrians were killed in traffic in 2018, according to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a projection based on data from the first half of the year.
The data shows a sharp rise from a decade earlier when 4,109 pedestrians were killed in traffic.
The 2018 toll is approaching a three-decade high, contributing to what has been an “alarming rise” in deaths in recent years.
“I’ve been in this business for 36 years and I’ve never seen a pattern like this,” Richard Retting, who wrote the report and has worked in a variety of traffic engineering and safety roles for the New York City Department of Transportation, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other federal and local transportation agencies said.
The report cited alcohol use, speeding, unsafe infrastructure and the prevalence of SUVs as some of the biggest problems contributing to the fatalities. It also suggested that the increased use of smart phones may contribute to such deaths.
“We can’t say in any definitive way that the amount of wireless data and the amount of smart phone use is the exact cause, but the relationship is uncanny and it’s not unrelated,” Retting said. “The fact is that many, many smart phones are used while people are driving cars.”
With smart phone use on the rise, both drivers and pedestrians are at risk of being increasingly distracted. According to the report, the number of smart phones in active use increased more than fivefold between 2009 and 2017 and was matched by an even larger increase in annual wireless data traffic.
Some of the increase can be attributed to population growth, but that was not the largest factor, according to Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
“That doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable,” he added. “We are driving more and driving deadlier cars,” said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Also of concern: City dwellers who cannot afford to drive are being pushed into suburbs that are not designed to be walkable, Atherton said.
“When you combine high-speed, high-volume roads with sprawl, it’s a perfect recipe for death,” she added.
In recent years, cities across the country have worked to tackle the problem, adopting “Vision Zero” plans, modeled on a successful Swedish initiative of the same name, with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities outright. But while many cities have made progress toward that goal, pedestrian deaths have proved difficult to eradicate.
Nationally, overall traffic deaths fell 6% from 2008 to 2017, but pedestrian deaths rose 35% over the same period.
Five states accounted for nearly half of the projected deaths: California, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
Local figures we were able to obtain showed that the California Highway Patrol station in Lancaster reported that 11 pedestrians were injured and four others were killed in 2018.
The CHP station in Mojave had statistics that showed three pedestrians injured and one killed last year.
California City Police station reported that two pedestrians were killed in the past four years.
Florida invested $100 million to improve lighting in about 2,500 locations throughout the state to make it easier to see pedestrians using or crossing roads at night.
Perhaps that’s something that California and its many cities should consider. And warnings about the danger of using a smart phone while driving should be publicized even more.