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Pedestrian Deaths Edge Down, Following Unexplained 3-Year Rise

After three years of rising pedestrian deaths in America, there's some good news this week about the safety of people on foot.

Has pedestrian safety turned a corner? Photo: New York Times
To really turn the corner on pedestrian safety, roads like this need to be redesigned. Photo: New York Times
Has pedestrian safety turned a corner? Photo: New York Times

Pedestrian deaths fell 8.7 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period the previous year, according to a report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association. That means about 190 fewer people were killed while walking in the first part of 2013.

The decline follows a three-year period in which pedestrian deaths rose 15 percent from an all-time low in 2009.

Experts aren't sure what to make of the decline, just as they had trouble explaining the three-year increase that preceded it. Allan Williams, who completed the report, said the dip may be "an anomaly."

GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole concurred, saying in a press release,  “the preliminary findings are good news, but it’s too soon to celebrate."

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices and distracted driving was often cited as a potential factor in the rise in pedestrian fatalities. But driving fatalities fell 3 percent during the same period.

Now that there seems to be some improvement, some cautious, preliminary theories are being floated. One is that greater awareness of pedestrian safety has led to more street designs intended to making walking safer.

Mark Plotz, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, told USA Today he hoped that was the case, "but it's too early to know."

Some credit for the improvement may even belong to the state of Florida, which is the deadliest state for pedestrians per capita. Florida has been making some strides to remedy its horrible record; the state recorded a 23 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2013. Florida has been implementing reforms aimed at protecting pedestrians, including the hiring of two full-time pedestrian and cycling planners to help oversee design at each of its seven district offices, according to USA Today.

California, Texas, and Florida alone accounted for almost a third of the nation's pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2013, according to GHSA. Large states with lots of big cities tend to have the most pedestrian fatalities.

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