Last February, 62-year-old Gary W. Bess, Sr. was killed when he was hit by a pickup truck while he was walking on Norfolk’s notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly Tidewater Drive.
Tidewater Drive frequently makes headlines when pedestrians are killed or injured. It’s one of Hampton Roads’ fast moving urban highways that run through residential areas and is notorious for its lack of crosswalks, as my colleague John Cooper explains in this video.
It wasn’t the only highway in Hampton Roads to record a pedestrian death last year. A 60-year-old woman from Hampton lost her life to a hit-and-run driver on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News – another major road with an appalling record for pedestrian accidents.
It’s not clear if the number of pedestrian accidents is increasing in Hampton Roads, but there is little evidence that roads such as Jefferson Avenue and Tidewater Drive are becoming any more pedestrian-friendly. A report released this month suggests fatal pedestrian accidents are surging nationally at levels not seen in decades.
The report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents governors’ highway safety offices, estimates pedestrian deaths rose by as much as 10 percent last year.
The report by Richard Retting and Dr. Heather Rothenberg of Sam Schwartz Consulting was based on preliminary data reported by all 50 state highway safety agencies and the District of Columbia for the first six months of 2015.
“We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore, we are quite alarmed,” stated Retting.
The preliminary figures are particularly alarming because ever since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established in 1975, the annual change in the number of pedestrian fatalities has fluctuated from a 10.5 percent fall to an 8.1 percent increase. We could be seeing a year-on-year rise in pedestrian deaths on a scale that’s unprecedented since the 1970s.
Distracted Driving is Fuelling Pedestrian Deaths
The report suggests low gas prices may have been a factor behind the spike as motorists put an unprecedented amount of miles behind the wheel. However, the growing use of smartphones, causing drivers to be distracted, may also be to blame, the Governors Highway Safety Association warns.
The association suggested the increased number of walkers may be a further factor in the spike, underscoring the “need to create safe, walkable pathways and ensure that people who drive and people who walk both understand and follow the rules of the road.”
Researchers made the estimate of a 10 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities by comparing the 2,368 pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2015 with the same period in 2014 (2,232), and adjusting for likely underreporting.
If you have been hurt in a pedestrian accident in Virginia or north eastern North Carolina or have lost a loved one, call us at (757) 455-0077 or see our resources on accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists.