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Dead man, women walking: Pedestrian fatalities highest since 1990

A new study shows pedestrian fatalities are at their highest level in almost three decades. (File, Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, File)

Walking is good exercise, costs nothing and can be fun — but a new study shows the number of pedestrian fatalities nationwide is the highest it’s been since 1990.

A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association projects 6,227 pedestrians died in 2018, which is the highest number in almost three decades.

The study shows walkers in the D.C. area have also been at increased risk of being killed.

“In the first six months of the year, Maryland saw a 25 percent increase in the number of pedestrians killed, in [the first half of] 2017 to 2018, going from 48 to 60,” said Kara Macek, director of communications and programs for GHSA.

Virginia experienced an 18 percent increase, from 45 to 53 deaths, while the District numbers rose 14 percent, from seven fatalities to eight.

As for why? Macek said there are a variety of factors.

“We know there are more people out walking, which increases exposure,” said Macek. “There are more SUVs on the road, and these vehicles are much more lethal whenever a pedestrian encounters them,” because of their large size.

“Unsafe driving behaviors continue to contribute to pedestrian facilities,” Macek said. “Excessive speed, distracted and drowsy driving, alcohol and drug impaired driving.”

Most pedestrian fatalities take place on local roads, at night, away from intersections, suggesting a need for safer road crossings.

“We need to prioritize moving people safely versus moving cars around quickly,” Macek said.

Carmakers continue to improve pedestrian avoidance technology, Macek said. She’s unaware of any technology that can warn a pedestrian that a vehicle is approaching unsafely.

“Honestly, by the time the technology could sense that a vehicle’s going to hit you, I would be surprised if a pedestrian could get out of the way in time,” Macek said.

Macek said drivers need to be responsible for operating heavy vehicles safely.

“We can’t rely on technology to automate our way out of this problem,” she said.

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