As the Pandemic Opens More Roadways to Pedestrians, States Help Launch October as Pedestrian Safety Month
September 29, 2020
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – When it comes to safety on U.S. roadways, being a pedestrian can be deadly. As pedestrian fatalities have soared to historic levels in the past decade, representatives of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) joined earlier today with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials and walking advocates to designate October National Pedestrian Safety Month. This is the first federally designated, month-long pedestrian safety awareness event and it comes on the heels of many states temporarily or permanently closing roadways to motor vehicles to foster more and safer walking opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pedestrian deaths are unacceptably high so federal leadership to achieve zero deaths is absolutely critical,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, GHSA Sr. Director of External Engagement and author of several national best practice reports on pedestrian, bicyclist and micromobility safety. “As motor vehicles have become increasingly safer for occupants due to design changes and the addition of supplemental safety features, the same can’t be said for pedestrians. More must be done to ensure people on foot can safely travel our roadways.”
Between 2009 and 2018, the number of pedestrian fatalities jumped by 53 percent from 4,109 deaths in 2009 to 6,283 deaths, according to the DOT’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Over this same time period, the rate of pedestrians involved in all U.S. motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 12 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2018, a rate not previously seen in this country since 1983. Nighttime is especially dangerous for people on foot. Over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities occurring after dark increased by 67 percent compared to 16 percent during the daytime.
Several GHSA member states – Florida, Michigan and New York – participated in today’s event to discuss steps they are taking to address the behavioral safety issues that put pedestrians at risk. For example, the Florida State Safety Office, as part of the Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow program, is planning to air two, new public service announcements (PSA), via television and social media to educate the public about how speeding impacts pedestrians. Law enforcement officials will also be conducting school bus safety promotions and distributing lighted armbands to pedestrians who are not visible along roadways in lower socioeconomic areas.
In Michigan, the Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) is partnering with 12 law enforcement agencies in 12 cities to educate and engage with motorists and pedestrians. They will focus on motorists making illegal turns, failing to stop at a signal or crosswalk and not yielding to pedestrians, as well as pedestrians not using sidewalks where provided or walking facing traffic on a roadway. The OHSP will also launch a new Stay in Your Car campaign to remind motorists involved in a roadside emergency to stay in their vehicle until help arrives. Between 2014-2018, 10 percent of the state’s pedestrian deaths have involved a roadside emergency.
Other examples of state initiatives kicking off in October include:
- The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) will launch a statewide paid media campaign on television, radio, digital and social media, streaming services, billboards, Waze, and gas pumps to encourage road users to Go Safely, California. OTS also developed a pedestrian safety toolkit featuring virtual handouts and activity sheets that reinforce best safety practices for youth as they continue distance learning due to the pandemic.
- In Iowa, the Governors Traffic Safety Bureau (GTSB) is inviting communities that had at least one pedestrian fatality in 2019 to participate in its A Life is on the Line engineering, education and enforcement program. GTSB is offering grants of up to $3,000 for overtime enforcement that focus on behaviors leading to pedestrian-related crashes in high-risk areas such as school and construction zones. They’re also providing guidance to help city and county engineers reduce speeding and leverage proven pedestrian countermeasures, as well as posters and other educational materials for display countywide.
- The Maryland Department of Transportation is hosting Walktober, a month-long series of activities and virtual webinars to call attention to Maryland’s official exercise and how people can walk safer. The public is invited to participate in four, free walkinars featuring local, state and national speakers and Walk Maryland Day on Oct. 7.
- The New York Governors Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) partnered with the Department of Health to produce a roll call video designed to educate law enforcement about the state’s vehicle and traffic safety laws and the importance of enforcing them for the safety of all road users. They’ll also distribute See! Be Seen! education materials and run their Visibility PSA the last two weeks of October to coincide with Halloween and Daylight Savings Time.
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation kicked off its 2020 Watch for Me NC awareness campaign that will distribute safety tips in English and Spanish for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians in a variety of ways – including in food delivery orders. Law enforcement officers will also receive special training for enforcing bicycle and pedestrian safety laws as part of the program, which involves 30 participating partner communities across the state.
In a report published earlier this year, GHSA identified a number of countermeasures that can help reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions including new vehicle technology and design features, improved lighting, infrastructure enhancements, and speeding and impaired driving enforcement.