Despite an increased focus on street safety, the number of pedestrians killed by vehicles in California rose 7% in the first half of 2015 compared with the year before, according to a national study released Tuesday.
Researchers with the Governors Highway Safety Assn., a nonprofit traffic safety organization, analyzed preliminary federal data that track the number of vehicle-related deaths in every state.
From January to June 2015, 347 people on foot were struck and killed by cars across California, the study found. In the same period the previous year, 323 people were killed.
Nationally, the number of pedestrian deaths increased 6%, researchers said. But early data often are on the low side, they said, and when final statistics for the period are compiled, the increase will probably rise to 10%, which would represent the largest year-to-year increase in fatalities since federal officials began tracking the figure 40 years ago.
“We are quite alarmed,” Richard Retting, the study’s coauthor, said in a news release. “Pedestrian safety is clearly a growing problem across the country.”
The number of traffic fatalities across the United States has fallen by one-fourth over the last decade. But the number of pedestrians killed has remained flat during the same period. Pedestrian deaths represented 11% of traffic fatalities in 2005 and 15% in 2015.
Researchers see an increase in walking and driving. Americans drove a record 1.54 trillion miles in the first half of 2015, spurred by low gas prices and a stronger job market.
Car companies continue to upgrade cars’ safety features, meaning passengers have a greater chance of surviving a wreck. Pedestrians do not have those protections.
Data for Los Angeles County were not immediately available. But in an analysis last year, The Times found that pedestrians represent more than one-third of traffic deaths in Los Angeles County, a rate higher than the national average.
The analysis also found that nearly a quarter of crashes involving a pedestrian occur at less than 1% of L.A.'s intersections.
As part of a campaign called Vision Zero, aimed at eliminating traffic deaths in Los Angeles by 2025, city officials are working to make many of those intersections safer by installing higher-visibility crosswalks, retiming traffic signals and adding bike lanes to reduce vehicle speeds.
Speed is a key factor in reducing pedestrian deaths, experts say. Pedestrians face a 25% chance of severe injury if they are hit by a car going 23 mph, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. That risk rises to 75% if the car is going 39 mph.
More people were killed by cars in California in the first half of 2015 than in any other state. Adjusted for population, however, Florida had the highest fatality rate per resident, the study said, followed by Arizona and Delaware.
On the other end of the spectrum is Vermont, which had no pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2015, the study said.
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