Growing concern over rise in Hispanic pedestrian deaths

WASHINGTON – Nearly half of Montgomery County’s pedestrian deaths in 2011 have been Hispanic victims — a trend that has local leaders and other community organizations worried.

Eleven people were killed in 26 pedestrian traffic crashes so far this year in Montgomery County, and five have been identified as Hispanic or Latino.

Two of those deaths occurred recently, and within a mile of each other. Last Saturday, a man was killed in a hit-and-run while he stood at a bus stop along Veirs Mill Road. Later that evening, another Hispanic male was killed trying to cross Veirs Mill Road near the Randolph Crossing Shopping Center.

In total, four Hispanic deaths have occurred on Veirs Mill Road in 2011.

Triple-A Mid-Atlantic has coined the road a “mean street” for the amount of deaths that have occurred on it this year.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) says the highest pedestrian crash rates in the region have been found “in the urban core and inner suburban areas, especially areas with low incomes and/or high Hispanic immigrant populations.”

The COG’s study reflects a national study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Highway Administration that says “a disproportionate number of the persons killed in highway crashes of all types are Hispanic immigrants.”

CASA de Maryland says pedestrian fatalities are a public health issue for many Latino communities across the Washington region.

“We know that the Latino community is at higher risk than other communities when it comes to fatal pedestrian collisions. This has been a worry for years,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland in a press release.

“We hope that more is done to prevent future fatalities.”

Kristin Nevels, with Triple-A Mid-Atlantic, says there are three reasons Hispanic pedestrian deaths are becoming a trend.

“They rely heavily on walking and bicycling, also their language barrier, and recent immigrants may not be familiar with traffic rules, as far as crossing at crosswalks and things of that nature,” Nevels says.

The region’s “Street Smart” pedestrian safety campaign that is seen in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Arlington counties does have bilingual elements.

Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks says no matter what language area drivers speak, they need to be alert while walking or driving on county roads.

“Whether you are behind the wheel or getting ready to cross the street, everybody has to be engaged and concentrating on what they are doing,” Starks says.

Overall, pedestrian collisions are down across Montgomery County. There have been 371 collisions to date in 2011, compared to 436 in 2010 and 454 in 2009.

Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow Kristi and

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