A report from the Governor’s State Highway Association estimating the nation will see a 10 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities between 2014 and 2015 made waves earlier this month.
Data from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute indicates the state saw nearly twice that increase in the same time period.
Richard Retting, who works for Sam Swartz Consulting and served as the lead author of the GSHA fatality report, says one would need to go back nearly 20 years to see similar fatality numbers.
“It’s rare –in fact it’s unprecedented—to see an increase of 10 percent,” he says. “It’s more typical to see an increase or decrease that’s far less.”
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which serves as the state’s planning organization for traffic safety, Indiana saw 92 pedestrian fatalities in 2015, an 18 percent increase from the year before.
Institute Communications Director Adam Baker says pedestrians can pose just a big of a danger to themselves as people driving cars.
“One of the things we push all the time across the United States, and any state is distracted driving,” he says. “But I think one of the other areas where we can have better messaging is distracted walking.”
Baker says people rarely look up from their smartphones when they’re walking. That, along with many other factors, could be partially to blame for the huge uptick in deaths.
He also mentions more people in general are out on the roads.
“In any situation when you increase flow, when you increase traffic, whether behind a motorcycle, the wheel of a car or walking, you are going to increase the likelihood of someone being injured,” Baker says. “It’s not only up to the driver but to the pedestrian to have more self-awareness.”
Retting says the combination of a good economy and lower gas prices mean more drivers on the road: going to work, traveling on vacations and visiting restaurants—and bars.
“At a minimum, half of pedestrian fatalities are alcohol related,” Retting says. “And that doesn’t begin to take into account drivers and pedestrians that are impaired by alcohol, just not at that high of level.”
The GHSA estimates in fatal pedestrian crashes in 2013 (when the most recent data is available), 34 percent involved a pedestrian with a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 g/dL.
The GHSA recommends state strategies that include targeted traffic enforcement, identifying high-risk zones (Something Baker says the CJI has worked on studying in Indianapolis) and road safety audits as potential programs that could cut down on pedestrian deaths.
Baker urges anyone who has been drinking to find a ride with someone—whether it be through friends, a ride-sharing service or public transportation.
On a positive note, Indiana has seen a decrease in cycling deaths – down from 12 in 2014 to nine in 2015.