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Status Report, Vol. 35, No. 9 | October 21, 2000 Subscribe

Types of pedestrian crashes have changed since the 1970s

There should be widespread implementation of measures to reduce conflicts between turning vehicles and pedestrians at urban intersections. This is the conclusion of a new study, sponsored by the Institute, that takes a fresh look at where and how pedestrians are being struck.

Pedestrians accounted for 13 percent of motor vehicle deaths in 1998. The problem is worst in urban areas, where 68 percent of pedestrian deaths occur. As big a problem as this is, it represents an improvement since 1976. Pedestrian deaths have declined 30 percent since then compared with a 5 percent decline in all other vehicle deaths.

Fewer deaths among young people

There are other changes, too. Twenty-three percent of all fatally injured pedestrians in 1976 were younger than 15. Now only 10 percent are that young. At the same time, the number of pedestrian deaths among 30- 49 year-olds has increased. This shift indicates a change in the crash types that are occurring, says Institute senior vice president Allan Williams. "We see many fewer children running into the street and being struck — so-called midblock dart-dash crashes—but we're also seeing more adults who are legally crossing at intersections and being hit by turning vehicles."

Researchers collected 1998 crash statistics from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In Washington, similar data were collected in 1976, allowing the direct comparisons. In the mid-1970s, midblock dart-dash crashes made up 37 percent of pedestrian crashes in Washington. By 1998, the proportion had declined to 15 percent in Washington and 18 percent in Baltimore. Twenty-five percent of all Washington pedestrians involved in crashes during 1998 were 14 or younger, compared with 46 percent in 1976.

Turning-vehicle crashes increased from 9 percent of Washington's pedestrian crashes in 1976 to 25 percent in 1998. These impacts involved primarily pedestrians 25 years and older.

Who's at fault?

Researchers found the pedestrians culpable in 50 percent of crashes. Drivers were at fault in 39 percent. Both were found culpable in 1 percent, while culpability was unknown in the other 10 percent of crashes.

Pedestrians were almost always judged culpable in midblock and intersection dash crashes, the kind involving a pedestrian who appears suddenly in the path of a vehicle. But among the other crash types identified — turning vehicle, vehicle backing up, and pedestrian not in road — drivers usually were more at fault.

Measures to reduce crashes

"The development of safety measures in the 1970s and '80s focused primarily on child pedestrians because of the prevalence of midblock dart-dash crashes," says David Preusser of the Preusser Research Group, which conducted the study. "Today we need a new focus on measures that will reduce the number of pedestrians hit by turning vehicles." For example, traffic signals can be changed to let pedestrians begin crossing a street several seconds before turning vehicles get a green light. Stop lines can be placed farther back from crosswalks at traffic signals to increase the time it takes for the first vehicles to enter intersections.

Such measures, "have great potential to improve the problem of turning vehicles hitting pedestrians, but they're not widely used," Williams notes (see Status Report special issue: pedestrian injuries, March 13, 1999).

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