SALT LAKE CITY — Nationwide, it’s getting more deadly to walk to school, walk to work, or even walk your dog in your neighborhood. That’s according to a national study showing pedestrian fatalities at a 28-year high.
In Utah, pedestrian fatalities actually increased in Utah in 2018. Utah averages about 40 pedestrian fatalities a year, compared to 30 or fewer a decade ago.
Utah pedestrians interviewed were not surprised to hear more people are hit and killed by cars today than a decade ago.
“I think it’s gotten little bit worse,” Max Benson in downtown Salt Lake City said.
“It’s not nearly as safe as it was before, I would think,” Alex Cutini said.
According to a new report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, pedestrian fatalities surged by 35 percent over the last decade nationwide.
In Utah, pedestrian fatalities hit an all-time high of 49 4 years ago, then leveled off to comprise about 15 percent of Utah’s road fatalities.
Last year, there were 38 pedestrian fatalities in Utah. So far this year, there have been five: 23 percent of all Utah road fatalities.
When asked what people thought was causing the rise in fatalities, most of them mentioned some form of distraction.
“The big thing, I think, is cellphones,” Benson said. “In particular, I get really nervous when I see people on their cellphones and they’re turning right.”
Cutini said he thought the rise in pedestrian fatalities was due in part to people “trying to rush to get home at the end of the day, and not really respecting the traffic laws.”
The national study also cited excessive speed, and the popularity of trucks and SUVs being on the rise. Big vehicles are more likely to kill people during accidents.
“About five years ago, we saw a spike in pedestrian fatalities and really started focusing more on behavioral and trying to find other solutions in the field,” said Robert Miles, UDOT Director of Traffic and Safety.
UDOT has focused on pedestrian safety much of the last decade with multiple studies and projects, Miles said. He said the organization is trying to change behaviors to cut distractions in the car and on foot to create a safer system for both pedestrians and motorists.
“It’s something that everybody has to work together on,” he said.
In addition to behavioral solutions, Miles said UDOT is always working on engineering solutions, too. They would like “to make them (signals and intersections) easier for pedestrians to use and easier for motorists to use in conjunction with pedestrians.”
UDOT is testing computer programs to change pedestrian and motorist signals depending on the time of day and flow of traffic in order to improve safety.
“What we want to do is try and provide as much separation as we can for the pedestrians and for the motorized traffic,” Miles said.
Signal engineers are working on projects to provide as much time as possible for pedestrians to cross the road, and still maintain the flow of traffic for motorists. UDOT is even studying how fast pedestrians walk to find out if that plays a role.
“It’s behavioral — the choices we make,” he said. “If we choose to be distracted either as a pedestrian or as a motorist, that weighs into everything that happens on the roadway.”
It’s up to us, Miles said, whether we choose to speed, or be distracted, or make an aggressive, unsafe maneuver. “It all comes down to how we behave, and if we all work together, we can reach zero fatalities.”
As the weather warms, the Department of Public Safety plans several enforcement activities at crosswalks in our communities to keep pedestrians safe, and drive the message home.