What to Know
- New York is among five U.S. states that make up 43 percent of pedestrian deaths, according to a new report
- The state has the highest death toll of pedestrians killed at intersections; those deaths made up 33 percent of pedestrian deaths
- Safety experts say deadly accidents involving pedestrians are more likely to occur in cities and at night
Intersections in New York State are among the deadliest in the country for pedestrians, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report released Wednesday.
New York leads the country in pedestrian deaths at intersections, preliminary data from 2014 to 2016 shows. Of the state’s 879 total pedestrian deaths during that time period, 294 of them, or 33 percent, were at intersections. New Jersey had the seventh most deaths at intersections -- 131 out of 500 total pedestrian deaths, or 26 percent.
By comparison, fewer than 20 percent of national pedestrian deaths in 2016 were at intersections; they happened in lanes away from intersections (72 percent) or in locations outside of travel lanes, like shoulders and driveways (10 percent).
New York is also dangerous for elderly pedestrians, the report says. The state was seventh in the nation for percentage of pedestrian traffic death victims who were elderly, at 23 percent between 2014 and 2016. It had the highest death toll of elderly victims of any state for that time period, at 204 fatalities of 879 total fatalities.
And New York was among five states that accounted for 43 percent of all pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2017, according to the report. The Empire State had the fourth-most pedestrian fatalities at 115 deaths. By comparison, the deadliest state, California, had 352 fatalities in the first half of 2017. Florida, Texas and Arizona were the other states in the top five.
Cities remain the deadliest places for pedestrians and are getting deadlier, according to the report. The total number of pedestrian fatalities in the ten largest U.S. cities -- of which New York City is the largest -- increased from 551 fatalities in 2015 to 704 fatalities in 2016, or about 28 percent.
In New York City, deaths went from 131 in 2015 to 137 in 2016, the report says. This comes as total traffic deaths in the city (which includes driver deaths) hit an all-time low of 214 last year, according to previously released city data. In 2013, there were 299 traffic deaths. City Hall has credited the drop in overall traffic deaths to the Vision Zero initiative being spearheaded by the city Department of Transportation and the NYPD.
The state of New York has already implemented a $110 million Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that uses education, enforcement and engineering solutions to target 20 communities where pedestrian fatalities are highest. Those communities include 13 in the tri-state, of which eight are on Long Island. (Hempstead was the most dangerous community, with 2,139 crashes.)
Meanwhile, New Jersey is increasing enforcement at high pedestrian crash locations and funding pedestrian safety education. In Connecticut, the DOT has recently implemented a statewide overhaul to replace old signage and launched an outreach campaign.
Wednesday's report revealed other interesting trends at the national level. One of the most striking findings: For the second year in a row, pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. have reached numbers not seen in 25 years, and experts suspect smartphone and marijuana use could be to blame for the deadly trend.
The report estimates that 5,984 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2017, a figure unchanged from 2016, according to the report, which analyzed preliminary data provided by the highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
That figure represents a 27 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2007 to 2016. Pedestrians now account for approximately 16 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, compared to 11 percent a decade ago, the GHSA reported.
"Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community. These high levels are no longer a blip but unfortunately a sustained trend,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a press release. "We can’t afford to let this be the new normal."
Though many factors can cause traffic deaths to rise, safety experts note two potential factors that may have contributed to the increase in fatalities: growth in smartphone use and state legalization of recreational marijuana.
The report emphasized that while there is no confirmed or scientific link between the two recent trends and the spike in pedestrian deaths, “it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot.”
In the seven states, as well as the District of Columbia, that legalized marijuana for recreational use between 2012 and 2016, pedestrian deaths spiked 16.4 percent in the first half of 2017, according to the GHSA study. At the same time, all other states saw a combined decrease in deaths of 5.8 percent.
Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Morgan Fox dismissed the finding, saying the connection to marijuana is tenuous at best and that the authors admit there were a wide variety of factors at play.
"It seems much more likely that fluctuations are more heavily influenced by population increase, more people driving more often, and increased use of electronic devices while walking and driving," Fox said. "I’m not sure why the study would highlight marijuana and immediately say there is no definitive link, other than to sensationalize it."
Indeed, smartphone usage, a significant source of distraction, regardless of travel mode, also increased by 236 percent between 2010 to 2016. Analysis of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance database shows the number of cell-phone related emergency room visits in the U.S. has been increasing in parallel with the prevalence of cell phone use.
Another factor is populations rising in urban areas, where most pedestrian fatalities occur. The nation’s 10 most congested cities saw large increases in pedestrian fatalities compared to smaller ones.
Federal data found that about 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, making improvements in street lighting critical, the study says.
Several cities, including New York, have adopted “Vision Zero" strategies, pedestrian safety initiatives aimed at eliminating traffic deaths.