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Michigan pedestrian deaths up 40% in '14

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Pedestrian deaths in Michigan rose 40 percent in the first six months of 2014, even as overall U.S. pedestrian deaths fell slightly, the Governors Highway Safety Association said.

It said the number of pedestrian deaths in Michigan rose to 66, up from 47 in the same period in 2013.

Using preliminary data provided by the 50 State Highway Safety Offices and the District of Columbia, the association estimates that 2,125 pedestrians were killed in the first half of 2014, essentially unchanged when compared with the 2,141 pedestrian fatalities during the same period in 2013.

"This is clearly a good news, bad news scenario," said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA's executive director. "While we're encouraged that pedestrian fatalities haven't increased over the past two years, progress has been slow. Protecting pedestrians is a priority for GHSA and our members; we're determined to drive the number down to zero."

Pedestrian deaths declined steeply from 7,516 in 1975 to 4,735 in 2013. "But when you consider the percentage of pedestrians killed in all motor vehicle crashes, the gains are less pronounced. The rate was 17 percent in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It fell to a low of 11 percent in the past decade, but climbed back to 14 percent in 2013," said Allan Williams, former chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who conducted the GHSA research.

Still Michigan pedestrian deaths account for less than 10 percent of all road deaths. In the District of Columbia, pedestrians account for the highest percentage of all motor vehicle deaths (45 percent), followed by New York (28 percent), Nevada (25 percent), and Delaware (25 percent). Pedestrian deaths remain up 15 percent from their lowest point in 2009.

GHSA notes that pedestrian fatalities predominately occur in large-population states with large urban centers. Other characteristics include a tendency to occur late at night and/or involve alcohol use. GHSA said both distracted driving and walking may help explain the increase in pedestrian fatalities in recent years.

In April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Detroit has the nation's highest fatality rate for pedestrians among major cities.

The auto safety agency said of cities with 500,000 or more people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate at 3.99 per 100,000 residents, followed by Oklahoma City at 3.34 per 100,000 and Albuquerque at 3.24 per 100,000.

Detroit had 28 pedestrians killed in 2012 out of 102 people killed in total in traffic crashes.

By contrast, the pedestrian fatality rate in Washington, D.C., was 1.11 per 100,000, Denver 2.84 per 100,000 and Boston 0.79 per 100,000.

NHTSA said 4,743 pedestrians were killed and 76,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2012. That was up 6 percent from 2011 and was the highest number of fatalities in the last 5 years. In 2012, pedestrian deaths accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. By contrast, pedestrian deaths in 2003 accounted for just 11 percent of all traffic deaths.

In 2012, 73 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred in an urban setting and 70 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred at non-intersections versus at intersections

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has made cutting pedestrian deaths a priority in office.

The U.S. Transportation Department said Wednesday it is launching a series of road safety assessments across the country as part of an 18-month project to try to reduce the rising number of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 4,743 pedestrians were killed and 76,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2012. That's up 6 percent from 2011 and was the highest number of fatalities in the last 5 years. In 2012, pedestrian deaths accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. By contrast, pedestrian deaths in 2003 accounted for just 11 percent of all traffic deaths. Bicyclist deaths were up 7 percent last year to 726.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has improving pedestrian safety a major part of his effort to boost road safety.

"Safety is our highest priority and that commitment is the same regardless of which form of transportation people choose, including walking and biking," Foxx said in September. "This initiative is aimed at reversing the recent rise in deaths and injuries among the growing number of Americans who bicycle or walk to work, to reach public transportation and to other important destinations."

Foxx said the department is launching a comprehensive approach that addresses infrastructure safety, education, vehicle safety and data collection. The campaign will begin with road safety assessments by U.S. field offices in every state, and will produce assistance to help communities build streets that are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. It is also working to get better data on pedestrians and bicyclists.

NHTSA is behind schedule on finalizing new rules requiring "quiet cars" to add new alerts to warn pedestrians.

Under a 2010 law from Congress, NHTSA was supposed to issue the final regulation by Jan. 3, 2014.

The new initiative will promote design improvements to make safer routes for pedestrians and bicycles, promote behavioral safety, and provide education to help individuals make safer travel choices. Many bicyclists and pedestrians killed have been drinking and the government will look at "strategies to prevent impaired walking and biking and encourage less risky choices."

DShepardson@detroitnews.com