Old and Young Vulnerable to Pedestrian Accidents

Report finds alarmingly high rate of alcohol, hit-and-runs

TUESDAY, April 22, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A new report finds the youngest and oldest Americans are the most vulnerable to pedestrian accidents, and an alarmingly high number of those killed in these crashes were the victims of hit-and-runs.

The report also says alcohol is often a major factor in these accidents, and the pedestrian was twice as likely to be drinking as was the driver.

Between 1975 and 2001 nearly 175,000 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roadways, according to the report, prepared by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Pedestrians make up the second largest segment of traffic fatalities after car occupants, exceeding fatalities among motorcyclists and bicyclists, says Ellen Martin, a NHTSA spokeswoman.

She adds that "nearly one in five pedestrians killed on America's roadways is the victim of a hit-and-run. This is the first time we have seen a finding like that. This is a very large number -- 18 percent of all pedestrian accidents."

In addition, children 5 to 9 years of age are very likely to be victims of fatal crashes, and more than one-fifth were pedestrians. Also, senior citizens, 70 and older, are extremely vulnerable to pedestrian accidents, Martin notes.

Martin points out that in pedestrian accidents, 37 percent involved alcohol use among pedestrians compared with 18 percent among drivers. "So more than half of these crashes involve alcohol and a startling number involve alcohol in pedestrians," she says.

The report analyzed data on pedestrian fatalities from single-vehicle crashes between 1998 and 2001. It also found that 78 percent of pedestrian deaths were at non-intersections, 44 percent happened at roadways without crosswalks, and 64 percent happened on urban roadways. New York and Los Angeles had the highest fatality rates.

Most of the fatalities were among men (64 percent), and nearly half occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

"It is very important for states and localities to examine the issues of enforcement and sidewalk construction and the availability of lighting and the design of roads to offer greater protection for pedestrians," Martin says.

"This report provides us with important new information about the scope of the pedestrian safety problem in the U.S.," says Dr. Thomas Koepsell, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

After several years of steady declines in the number of pedestrian deaths, the number began to rise again in 2001, Koepsell adds. "It is striking that so many pedestrian fatalities involve alcohol use by the pedestrian, the driver, or both."

"Hopefully, this report will help call attention to an under-appreciated public safety problem and lead to ways of preventing pedestrian deaths and injuries in the U.S.," Koepsell says.

The major cities with the highest fatality rates, according to the report, were Detroit, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco and Dallas. Those with the lowest rates were Seattle, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Columbus, Ohio, and Oklahoma City. The states with the highest fatality rates were New Mexico, Arizona and Florida; the lowest rates were in North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.

More information

The complete report is available at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Learn more about pedestrian and bicycle safety from the University of North Carolina.

SOURCES: Ellen Martin, spokeswoman, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Washington, D.C.; Thomas Koepsell, M.D., M.P.H., professor, epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle; NHTSA report, Pedestrian Roadway Fatalities
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