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U.S. pedestrian deaths appear to have declined last year

The recent rise in pedestrian deaths from traffic accidents had been troubling. In spite of generally good news regarding motor vehicle deaths in the last five years, and with traffic deaths reaching record lows not seen since the 1940s, the number of pedestrian deaths had increased during the most recent years.

Safety advocates and traffic engineers had been puzzled by this increase against the backdrop of the general decline of deaths from car accidents. It has been attributed everything from the recession and the need of many people to walk more because they could no longer afford driving a motor vehicle, to the increase in distracted driving potentially related to smartphones.

Just to keep everyone one confused, the preliminary numbers from the first half of last year show that pedestrian deaths have decreased for the first time in three years. This reversal, with a reduction of 8.7 percent is welcome, but again the reason for the change is unclear.

About half of the states saw declines; some saw an increase, but because the three largest states share an unequal number of pedestrian deaths, significant declines in Florida and California helped bring the totals down.

The numbers, however, fit with the model that forecast an overall reduction in deaths caused by car accidents.  

Pedestrians stand little chance when hit by a car at 30 mph, and car accidents at lower speeds can still cause life changing damage, causing substantial internal organ damage, broken and crushed bones, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.

With growing worries about the potential for distracted driving and walking to contribute to more pedestrian deaths, the reduction from last year suggests that we still have time to better educate drivers and pedestrians and to continue to work to engineer safer pedestrian environments.

Source: Ghsa.org, "New Report: Reversal in Three-Year Uptick in Pedestrian Fatalities," Dr. Alan Williams, Governors Highway Safety Association, March 5, 2014

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