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U.S. pedestrian deaths remained high in 2017, highway safety group estimates

| Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, 11:15 a.m.
Greensburg police Officer John Carnes helps Greensburg Salem Middle School students cross North Main Street in the rain on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Greensburg police Officer John Carnes helps Greensburg Salem Middle School students cross North Main Street in the rain on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

Pedestrian fatalities nationwide appear to be hovering at a 25-year high of about 6,000 a year as a national highway-safety group tallies figures for 2017, though Pennsylvania seems to have shown a slight downturn in such deaths.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, a national nonprofit representing states' highway safety offices, put out its preliminary pedestrian traffic fatalities report for 2017 on Wednesday, estimating that if trends continue, the final tally will stand at 5,984 pedestrians killed in crashes nationwide. The number has been steadily increasing since at least 2014 and was nearly identical in 2016, when 5,987 pedestrians were killed.

Kara Macek, spokeswoman for the GHSA, said the organization could point to several possible factors in the high level of fatalities: increased exposure to danger as more drivers hit the road and more people move to urbanized areas, an uptick in distracted driving from cellphone use, or even an increase in accidents in states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.

The GHSA report noted that in some states that have legalized recreational marijuana — Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia — pedestrian fatalities went up 16.4 percent in early 2017, while all other states saw a 5.8 percent drop.

“We lack causation data, but can see a correlation,” Macek said. “This is a red flag we need to look at as a country. We don't have a position on marijuana legalization, but we do have a position on getting people home safely.”

In Pennsylvania, the data indicated a slight drop, year-over-year, in the first six months of 2017, from 79 fatalities in the first half of 2016 to 63 in the first half of 2017. The state's rate of deaths per 100,000 people was lower than the national average, ranking 34th of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2016, the last full year for which data was available, 172 pedestrians were killed in crashes statewide, including 15 in Allegheny County and five in Westmoreland, according to PennDOT. That was the highest statewide number since 2003, when 175 pedestrians were killed, and there were195 pedestrian deaths in 2001.

Fatal pedestrian crashes in the latter part of 2017 included Kenneth Street, killed by a hit-and-run driver in Pittsburgh's Strip District Dec. 14; Ernest Boyd, struck and killed along Route 51 in Jefferson Hills Oct. 13; John Jenkins, found dead along Snowden Road in South Park Oct. 9; and an unidentified pedestrian struck and killed along the Tri-Boro Expressway in Wilmerding Nov. 20.

Macek said the organization each year analyzes crash data from the first six months of the previous year from its member states and extrapolates the likely tally for the entire year. The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will later release the official totals, meaning that 2017's actual tally probably won't be available until the last quarter of 2018, Macek said.

Last year's GHSA estimates were pretty close to the actual numbers, she said, with the organization predicting there would be 5,997 deaths in 2016 based on that year's preliminary data — less than a dozen above the final actual tally.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or on Twitter @msantoni.

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