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Be careful when you walk

The benefits of walking are many, and a daily stroll can go a long way toward improving a person’s overall health.

Unless, that is, your stroll covers a route that includes a portion near a street or road.

A recent report shows that the number of pedestrian deaths has been on a rapid increase since 2010. That’s according to information compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association and its State Highway Safety office. Preliminary projections estimate that 6,721 pedestrians were killed along roads in the United States in 2020. That represents an increase of 4.8 percent from 6,301 deaths recorded in 2019.

Those numbers were released to call attention to concerns during October, which has been designated as National Pedestrian Safety Month by the organizations.

That total represented 17 percent of the 36,408 total traffic fatalities recorded in 2019, the last year full statistics were available for. That percentage has been fairly consistent for the last 10 years or so. The numbers show 13 percent of traffic fatalities involved pedestrians in 2010. That number grew to 14 percent in 2011 and 2012; 15 percent in 2013, 2014 and 2015; 16 percent in 2016 and 2017; and 17 percent in 2018 and 2019.

Pedestrian fatalities increased at a significantly higher number than the number of all other traffic fatalities combined. While 2010 pedestrian fatalities and 28,697 fatalities from other sources combined were recorded in 2010, that number increased to 6,301 pedestrian fatalities in 2019 and 30,107 fatalities from other sources combined.

So, while annual traffic deaths from all sources have risen by just 5 percent since 2010, pedestrian fatalities have increased by 46 percent.

While final numbers for 2020 are not available, the numbers show that Ohio was one of 27 states that saw an increase in pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2020 as compared with 2019. The 67 deaths recorded in Ohio during that period in 2020 were 12 percent higher than the 60 deaths recorded in 2019.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia, meanwhile, were among the 20 states that saw a decrease.

Pedestrian deaths in Pennsylvania totaled 63 during the first six months of 2020 — 14 less than the 77 recorded during the first six months of 2019, an 18 percent decrease. West Virginia, meanwhile, saw an 8 percent decrease to 11 pedestrian fatalities in 2020, one fewer than the 12 recorded in 2019.

The numbers show that seven states accounted for 54 precent of all pedestrian deaths during the first half of 2020. Those states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Texas — make up about 42 percent of the U.S. population. California had the highest number of pedestrians killed between January and June of 2020 — 485 — while Vermont saw the lowest number — one.

It should come as no surprise that 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities in 2019 happened after dark, with 20 percent happening during daylight hours. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 30 percent of pedestrian fatalities between September and February occur between 6 p.m. and 8:59 p.m.

Remember what you have been taught about crossing at intersections? It makes a difference — only 25 percent of pedestrian fatalities happened at intersections or were intersection related.

And, in case you think alcohol does not affect your ability to walk, a sobering number shows that 32 percent of fatally injured pedestrians 16 or older had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.

Another set of numbers included in the report shows that 52 percent of pedestrian deaths involve white and non-Hispanic people, who make up 62 percent of the population, while 21 percent of pedestrian deaths involve Blacks or Hispanics, who make up 12 percent of the population.

All of those numbers are reason for concern.

“The spike in pedestrian fatalities in recent years is unacceptable,” explained Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the GHSA. “Nobody should have to worry about dying while walking.

“Vehicles are safer than ever for occupants thanks to design changes and new safety features, but the same can’t be said for people on foot,” he added. “We must do more to address the safety of our most vulnerable road users by stopping the preventable causes of crashes — speeding, impairment and distraction — that needlessly put lives at risk.”

His organization says those numbers can be reduced by utilizing the five E’s — enforcement, engineering, education, emergency medical response and equity. That last E, the report says, is essential to ensure cities, communities and neighborhoods are safe and accessible for all modes of transportation and all people.

There are, NHTSA reports, ways pedestrians can protect themselves — by using sidewalks, staying alert, crossing at crosswalks or intersections, wearing bright clothing and reflective materials and watching for cars entering or exiting driveways.

Drivers also have a responsibility — watch for pedestrians, slow down in intersections, yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, follow speed limits and be careful when backing out.

By following these reminders, we can make our streets safer for those who walk and those who drive — and help to lower those numbers.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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