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Rising Pedestrian Deaths Prompts IIHS to Suggest Changes in Streets, Vehicles

Rising Pedestrian Deaths Prompts IIHS to Suggest Changes in Streets, Vehicles

By Joseph Dobrian, May 16, 2018
A total of 5,987 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—the highest annual total since 1990. This number accounts for 16% of all crash fatalities, according to the safety advocacy group. The IIHS adds, in a recent report, that pedestrian deaths have jumped 46% since reaching their lowest point in 2009, as pedestrian crashes have become both deadlier and more frequent.

“Understanding where, when, and how these additional pedestrian crashes are happening can point the way to solutions,” says IIHS President David Harkey. “This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting, and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue.”

The increase, a new IIHS study shows, has been mostly in urban or suburban areas, on arterial streets—those designed mainly to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways—in the dark, and not at intersections. High-powered vehicles and SUVs have become increasingly likely to be involved in these crashes, according to the report.

The report also reveals that pedestrian-involved crashes are both more frequent, and more likely to result in a fatality. Deaths per 100 crash involvements increased 29% from 2010, when they reached their lowest point, to 2015. Pedestrian deaths increased 54% in urban areas, between 2009 and 2016. They increased 67% on arterials, 50% at non-intersections, and 56% in the dark. Fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81% during that period.

“When people are forced to walk long distances to the nearest signalized intersection, they are more likely to choose the riskier option of sprinting across multiple lanes of traffic,” Harkey says. “Communities can improve safety by providing more options to safely cross.” Harkey also suggests that mid-block crossings need features that alert drivers to stop, such as pedestrian-activated beacons. Curb extensions or median crossing islands, the IIHS adds, can shorten the distance people must walk to get to a safer area—allowing them to make their crossing in stages, and face only one direction of traffic.

This could, the Institute says, all be part of a larger plan to reduce pedestrian risks on arterial streets, which might include reconfiguring to reduce the number of travel lanes for vehicles and increased use of speed cameras.

“Good design should prioritize the safety of all road users,” Harkey says. “It's possible to improve streets for pedestrians while still allowing vehicle traffic to get where it needs to go.”

Previous IIHS research has shown that vehicles with higher horsepower-to-weight ratios tend to be driven faster and are more likely to violate posted speed limits. The current report notes that vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes, like the overall vehicle fleet, are increasingly powerful—even as speed limits, overall, have steadily increased in recent decades.

The report notes that in 2016, 4,453 pedestrians were killed in the dark, compared with 1,290 in daylight and 205 at dawn or dusk. Although better street lighting may be needed in some locations, the IIHS states, another “obvious solution” would be to improve vehicle headlights. The IIHS launched a headlight rating program in 2016. In that year, only two vehicle models won the Institute’s highest rating—Good—for their headlights. So far for the 2018 model year, 26 vehicle models offer Good-rated headlight packages.

The IIHS also urges automakers to add front crash-prevention systems that recognize pedestrians, particularly those that are designed to work in low light. A recent analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) reports that Subaru vehicles equipped with pedestrian detection had claim rates for pedestrian injuries 35% lower than the same vehicles without the system.

Finally, the IIHS suggests that design changes in SUVs might reduce pedestrian fatalities. SUVs have higher, and often more vertical, front ends than cars, and thus are more likely to strike a pedestrian in the head or chest.
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