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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
Spring 2021
Issue No:
Vol. 85 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Working Together to Improve Pedestrian Safety

by Victoria F. Sheehan

Working Together to Improve Pedestrian Safety

In 2019, traffic deaths decreased across the United States, with a fatality rate of 1.10 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the lowest since 2014. This is positive news, but even more encouraging is the 2.7-percent decrease in the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Headshot of Victoria Sheehan, Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Transportation. © New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

To lose 36,096 individuals on our Nation's roads, including 6,205 pedestrians, is still unacceptable, but given that there was a 3-percent increase in pedestrian deaths in 2018 and a 53-percent increase from the low point in 2009 until 2018, any reduction in pedestrian fatalities shows that efforts to improve safety may be starting to pay off.

As with any roadway safety challenge, it takes numerous stakeholders all doing their parts to bring results. Roadway designers, vehicle manufacturers, law enforcement, and the public all have a role to play.

One of the innovations in round 5 of the Federal Highway Administration's Every Day Counts initiative was Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP). This innovation encouraged States and municipalities to continue to deploy proven safety countermeasures, such as rectangular rapid flashing beacons, crosswalk visibility enhancements, pedestrian hybrid beacons, and road diets. Many of these countermeasures not only improve safety, but have the added benefit of enhancing quality of life for pedestrians of all ages and all abilities at a relatively low cost. As transportation departments across the country continue to focus on pedestrian crossing locations in a systematic way, it is anticipated that there will be even greater reductions in pedestrian deaths.

The increase in the percentage of sport utility vehicles on roadways is undoubtedly one cause of the increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2009 onward. Vehicle manufacturers have been working to modify the design of vehicles to reduce the severity of crashes, despite vehicle owners continuing to favor large vehicles, which commonly pose a greater risk to pedestrians than smaller vehicles. Deploying technologies such as pedestrian crash avoidance systems is one of the most promising solutions to reduce the hazard for pedestrians. Vehicles equipped with these technologies either stop in time to prevent a pedestrian crash or slow down significantly to reduce the severity of the impact. As the deployment of these technologies expands and the technologies are refined, it will certainly lead to positive outcomes.

For our law enforcement personnel, training has been developed to help officers understand the factors associated with pedestrian crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers training that provides suggested enforcement strategies, but also addresses the importance of complete and accurate crash reporting. Encouraging accurate crash reporting and publishing of data not only helps roadway designers prioritize investments, but also leads to greater citizen engagement and public awareness.

Which brings us to the public and pedestrians themselves. Having a shared understanding of where and how crashes are occurring is a critical first step. Human behavior is still a primary contributing factor for crashes, so all roadway users must acknowledge that safety is a shared responsibility. Whether behind the wheel of a vehicle, riding a bicycle, or walking, we all need to be aware of our surroundings, avoid distraction, and follow the rules of the road.

Continuing to work together and all doing our part to enhance safety is the only way to move toward zero deaths on our Nation's roadways.

Victoria F. Sheehan
New Hampshire Department of Transportation