IIHS studies increasing pedestrian deaths

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ARLINGTON, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted a study looking into the rising number of pedestrian deaths.

According to a release, pedestrian deaths have jumped 46 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2009, and pedestrian crashes have become deadlier and more frequent.

The increase has mostly been seen in urban or suburban areas at nonintersections and on arterials, which are busy roads designed mainly to funnel traffic toward freeways. The study also found more pedestrian crashes occurring in the dark.

IIHS says the crashes were more likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles.

"This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design, and lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue," said IIHS President David Harkey.

In 2016, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes, which accounted for 16 percent of all crash fatalities for that year in the country. This was the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1990.

The study looked at crash trends between 2009 and 2016 to pinpoint the circumstances under which the largest increases occurred.

Researchers use federal fatality data and crash numbers, looking at roadway, environmental, personal and vehicle factors to see how they changed over time.

They found that not only did the number of pedestrian crashes go up, they also became deadlier with deaths per 100 crash involvements increasing 29 percent from 2010 to 2015.

Between 2009 and 2016, the largest increases in pedestrian deaths occurred under the circumstances that historically have seen the highest numbers of pedestrian fatalities.

In urban area, the number of deaths increased by 54 percent, including both cities and what most people consider suburbs.

They also went up 67 percent on arterials, 50 percent at nonintersections and 56 percent in the dark.

The release adds pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81 percent.

However, it says the large increase in pedestrian deaths on arterials isn't surprising as such roads often have a shortage of convenient and safe crossing locations.

Just painting a crosswalk is also not enough as drivers need to be warned that a crosswalk is ahead, such as pedestrian-activated beacons.

Curb extensions and median crossing islands can shorten the distance people must walk or allow them to cross a couple of lanes of traffic at a time instead of the entire road.

Adding sidewalks will also reduce the number of people walking along a road in a risky area.

IIHS also suggests reducing speed limits because faster speeds make for more frequent and deadlier crashes.

The faster a vehicle is moving, the less time there is for a driver to see a pedestrian and slow down or stop, and high impact speeds result in more injurious crashes.

The release also suggests some changes that could be made to vehicles to lessen the threat to pedestrians.

A large majority of pedestrian fatalities occur in the dark, a number that went up much faster than the number of pedestrians killed in any other light conditions.

For 2016, 4,453 pedestrians were killed in the dark, compared to 1,290 in daylight and 205 at dawn or dusk.

IIHS says while street lighting may be needed in some places, an obvious solution is better headlights.

And vehicles with front crash prevention systems that recognize pedestrians also help, especially if they are designed to work in low light conditions.

Finally, changes to SUVs, pickups and vans could help by making the front-end design different to lessen the severity of injuries caused when a pedestrian is hit.

Such vehicles often have higher, more vertical fronts that are more likely to hit a pedestrian in the head or chest.

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