After four straight years of steady declines, pedestrian deaths increased during the first six months of 2010.

A report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that pedestrian fatalities increased during the first six months of 2010. While the increase is small 0.4 percent it is notable because overall traffic fatalities during this period were significantly down.  

The report Spotlight on Safety: Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State is the first state-by-state look at pedestrian fatalities for 2010 and was completed by Dr. James Hedlund, an independent researcher, formally with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Dr. Hedlund surveyed GHSA members, who reported preliminary fatality numbers for every state. For the first six months of 2010, pedestrian fatalities increased by seven, from 1,884 to 1,891. If the second six months of 2010 also show no significant change, this will be the first year of increase or no progress after four years of decline. Pedestrian traffic fatalities dropped from 4,892 in 2005 to 4,091 in 2009, an average decline of 200 each year.

While the slight increase may not seem particularly alarming, GHSA says it is a concern given that during this same period overall traffic fatalities declined eight percent, according to the preliminary estimate from the NHTSA. A growing national focus on walkable communities and "get moving" health and fitness efforts may cause pedestrian exposure, and thus risk, to increase.

GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey Jr. notes, "Nationally, pedestrian fatalities account for about 12 percent of overall traffic deaths, a small but significant portion. Given that we have made so much progress in this area, GHSA is concerned to see this reversal. One factor may be the increased distractions for both pedestrians and drivers. Anyone who travels in a busy city has seen countless pedestrians engrossed in conversation or listening to music while crossing a busy street. Just as drivers need to focus on driving safely, pedestrians need to focus on walking safely without distractions."

Looking at the early data from 2010, GHSA's report notes that 28 states experienced a pedestrian fatality decline, while 18 saw an increase and five were unchanged. (For purposes of this report, Washington D.C. is considered a state). Eight states had an increase of at least ten deaths. And as one might expect the increases to be in the large states with big cities and lots of pedestrians such as in California, New York and Texas, the three big states experienced reductions in pedestrian fatalities. States with increases include: Arizona (up 21), Florida (up 36), Oklahoma (up 16) Oregon (up 18), and North Carolina (up 17). 

The report notes that while there are no single solutions to address pedestrian safety, there are well established general principles states should follow to keep pedestrians safe, including analyzing crash data to identify pedestrian problem areas and installing pedestrian crosswalks or reserve roadway space and time for pedestrians. For example, Georgia has added pedestrian-activated red stop lights at high-volume pedestrian areas.