Pedestrian crashes have become deadlier and more frequent. The spike has occurred mostly in urban or suburban areas, away from intersections on busy main roads designed mainly to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways. The collisions, which often happen in the dark, are increasingly likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles.
Those are the highlights of a new study “On Foot, At Risk,” that looks at the rising pedestrian death toll and ways to reduce it. Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, the highest number since 1990 and a jump of 46 percent since reaching a low point in 2009, according to researchers, who examined crash and fatality trends using federal data.
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The report, released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry, noted that while the March crash of an Uber vehicle that killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona was unusual, as it involved a self-driving vehicle, it was typical of current fatal pedestrian crashes: an SUV traveling on an urban arterial road struck a person crossing midblock in the dark.
“Understanding where, when and how these additional pedestrian crashes are happening can point the way to solutions,” David Harkey, the institute’s president said in a statement. “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 report detailed a range of possible strategies to lessen the risk to pedestrians, from lowering speed limits and implementing broader use of speed cameras to designing roads more suited to pedestrians with safer and more convenient crossing locations. Improving lighting on streets and on vehicles was among the report’s recommended actions. Headlights, for example, have been gradually gotten better. In the 2016 model year, there were just two models with available good-rated headlights. To date for the 2018 model year, there are 26 good headlight packages.
Vehicle design changes could also help lessen the severity of crashes, especially when it comes to SUVs, the report found. Although pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81 percent, more than any other type of vehicle, according to the report. Modifications that include softer vehicle fronts was one example cited, and vehicles with front crash prevention systems that recognize pedestrians, particularly if designed to work in low light, were also found to be effective. A recent analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute, showed that Subaru vehicles equipped with pedestrian detection had claim rates for pedestrian injuries that were 35 percent lower than the same vehicles without them.