In the Washington D.C. area, it is common to see people such as local residents, workers, and tourists walking around the city. A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report indicates that traffic deaths among pedestrians have reached a 28-year high, with a 46% increase since 2009. They reported annually that 5,987 pedestrians were killed, which accounted for approximately 16% of all such deaths nationwide. Meanwhile, the D.C. Metro Police Department data for May 2018 year-to-date shows overall traffic fatalities have risen by 22% over the same time last year.
David Harkey, IIHS President, summarized that enhancements in roadway design strategies, vehicle design, improved lighting, and enforcement of speed limits are all necessary to recognize improved pedestrian safety. The majority of these pedestrian-related deaths happen after dark in urban and suburban areas. They are most likely to occur on multi-lane roads without crosswalks, or those that were poorly designed, involving vehicles traveling at excessive speeds.
Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA) Study Findings
- In terms of the rate of pedestrian deaths per number of residents, Arizona was the highest and Hawaii was the lowest.
- The pedestrian deaths in California, Florida, Texas, New York and Arizona made up 43% of the national total.
- They found that a comprehensive approach that combines education, law enforcement, and road design is the best strategy for prevention.
- Key contributing factors include:
- Higher prevalence of pedestrians
- Increased number of miles traveled
- Fuel prices and other economic factors
- Weather conditions
Road Design & Speed
The addition of sidewalks reduces the number of pedestrians present near the roadway. Reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes on roads leads to reductions in the speed of vehicle travel. The speed of travel is a critical factor, as increases lead to decreased reaction times and worsened collision severity. Vehicles with greater ratios of horsepower-to-weight are more likely to exceed posted limits for speed.
Because a large portion of pedestrian accidents occur at night, lighting is among the top priorities. Russ Rader, of IIHS, contends that many models of vehicle headlights are insufficient for nighttime usage. They have outlined a set of performance standards for headlights that are likely to significantly reduce the number of pedestrian collisions.
Enhancements to street lighting are also strongly suggested, particularly near intersections. Pedestrians themselves are encouraged to make their appearance more noticeable to motorists by walking through areas with better lighting, using a flashlight, and wearing reflective clothing or accessories.
Alcohol & Distracted Driving
Despite awareness among motorists about the dangers of drunk driving, the problem persists. Intoxicated pedestrians are increasingly a problem also, as approximately 50% of fatal pedestrian-related deaths involve alcohol by the motorist or pedestrian. Motorists involved in fatal pedestrian accidents flee the scene (hit & run) in roughly 20% of these instances, many are assumed to be fleeing to avoid a potential DUI.
Distractions are also a large problem among motorists and pedestrians. Pedestrians today are regularly seen walking with their sights fixed on their mobile devices and are often wearing headphones—creating dangerous situations where they are unable to see or hear approaching vehicles.