Even before the pandemic, being a pedestrian on roads in the United States could be deadly: fatalities soared to historic levels in the past decade. In recent months, as towns and cities across the country have closed roads to traffic and opened them up to pedestrians — as well as bicyclists and micromoblity users — walking has increased, and so has the need to highlight the need for better safety initiatives.
To address the growing concern, representatives from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices, joined U.S. Department of Transportation officials and walking advocates to designate October National Pedestrian Safety Month.
The news was announced on Tuesday by the GHSA, which called it the first ever federally designated, month-long pedestrian safety awareness event.
“Pedestrian deaths are unacceptably high so federal leadership to achieve zero deaths is absolutely critical,” Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement for the GHSA, said in a statement. “As motor vehicles have become increasingly safer for occupants due to design changes and the addition of supplemental safety features, the same can’t be said for pedestrians. More must be done to ensure people on foot can safely travel our roadways.”
Some startling facts that were noted in the recent announcement: The number of pedestrian fatalities jumped by 53 % between 2009 and 2018, from 4,109 deaths to 6,283 deaths, according to federal data.
During the same period, the rate of people on foot involved in all U.S. motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 12 % in 2009 to 17 % in 2018, “a rate not previously seen in this country since 1983,” the safety association said, noting that nighttime is especially dangerous for people on foot. For example, over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities that occurred after dark increased by 67 % compared to 16 % during the daytime.
A number of states have announced steps they are taking to address the issues that put pedestrians at risk. Initiatives include training for law enforcement officers, awareness campaigns, and distribution of educational materials. Here are some highlights that will be launched in October:
- Florida, as part of the Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow program, plans to run new public service announcements about how speeding impacts pedestrians, and law enforcement officials will conduct school bus safety promotions and distribute lighted armbands to pedestrians who are not visible along roadways in lower socioeconomic areas.
- In Michigan, 12 law enforcement agencies in 12 cities will address motorists and pedestrians about motorists making illegal turns, failing to stop at a signal or crosswalk and not yielding to pedestrians, as well as pedestrians not using sidewalks where provided or walking facing traffic on a roadway. A new Stay in Your Car campaign will serve to remind motorists involved in a roadside emergency to stay in their vehicle until help arrives, as a significant number of the pedestrian deaths have involved a roadside emergency.
- California will launch a statewide media campaign on television, radio, digital and social media, streaming services, billboards, Waze, and gas pumps to encourage road users to Go Safely, California.
- North Carolina kicked off an awareness campaign that will distribute safety tips for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians in a variety of ways – including in food delivery orders, and law enforcement officers will receive special training for enforcing bicycle and pedestrian safety laws, which involves 30 participating partner communities across the state.
- Iowa is inviting communities that had at least one pedestrian fatality in 2019 to participate in its A Life is on the Line engineering, education and enforcement program.
To access a previously published report by the GHSA that identified ways to help reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions, like improved lighting, infrastructure enhancements, and speeding and impaired driving enforcement, click here.