Pedestrian/motor vehicle crashes are a serious problem throughout the world and the United States has a particular problem with pedestrian deaths and injuries. Specifically, 4,906 pedestrians were reported to have been killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 1999. These deaths accounted for 11.8 percent of the 41,611 motor vehicle deaths nationwide that year. An estimated 85,000 pedestrians were injured or killed in motor vehicle collisions, which represents 2.6 percent of the 3.2 million total persons injured in traffic crashes. A drop in pedestrian fatalities in recent years may reflect the fact that people are walking less, as evidenced by the U.S. Census and the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS). The need to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries while promoting increased walking continues to be an important goal for the engineering profession.

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Crash involvement rates (crashes per 100,000 people) are the highest for 5- to 9-year-old males, who tend to dart out into the street. This problem may be compounded by the fact that speeds are frequently a problem in areas where children are walking and playing. In general, males are more likely to be involved in a crash than females; in 1999, more than 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities were male and the male pedestrian injury rate was a third higher than for females. Rates for older persons (age 65 and over) are lower than for most age groups, which may reflect greater caution by older pedestrians (e.g., less walking at night, fewer dart-outs) and a reduced amount of walking near traffic. However, older adult pedestrians are much more vulnerable to serious injury or death when struck by a motor vehicle than younger pedestrians. For example, the percentage of pedestrian crashes resulting in death exceeds 20 percent for pedestrians over age 75, compared to less than 8 percent for pedestrians under age 14.

Alcohol impairment is a serious problem for pedestrians as well as drivers of motor vehicles, although there is evidence that the picture is improving. From 1980 through 1989, 37 percent to 44 percent of fatally injured pedestrians had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10 or greater. In 1997, that figure was 29.5 percent and the intoxication rate for drivers was 12.5 percent. In 1989, of all adult pedestrians killed in nighttime collisions with motor vehicles, 59 percent had a BAC of .10 or greater, while only 31 percent had no alcohol in their blood. From 1987 to 1997, the intoxication rates for pedestrian fatalities in all age groups decreased, with the highest decrease, 19 percent, for those 55 to 64 years old and the least decrease, 3 percent, for those 35 to 44 years old.

Speeding is a major contributing factor in crashes of all types. In 1997, speeding was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes. Speeding has serious consequences when a pedestrian is involved. A pedestrian hit at 64.4 km/h (40 mi/h) has an 85 percent chance of being killed; at 48.3 km/h (30 mi/h), the likelihood goes down to 45 percent, while at 32.2 km/h (20 mi/h), the fatality rate is only 5 percent. Faster speeds increase the likelihood of a pedestrian being hit. At higher speeds, motorists are less likely to see a pedestrian, and are even less likely to be able to stop in time to avoid hitting one.

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Pedestrian crashes are most prevalent during morning and afternoon peak periods, when the traffic levels are highest. Fatal pedestrian crashes typically peak later in the day, between 5 and 11 p.m., where darkness and alcohol use are factors. In 1997, nearly one-half of all pedestrian fatalities occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (17 percent, 18 percent, and 13 percent, respectively). Crashes where older pedestrians are hit are more evenly distributed throughout the days of the week than those for younger pedestrians. Older pedestrians are more likely to be struck during daylight hours, when they are most likely to be exposed to traffic. September through January have the highest number of nationwide pedestrian fatalities, with typically fewer daylight hours and more inclement weather. Child pedestrian fatalities are greatest in May, June, and July, perhaps due to an increase in outside activity.

Pedestrian crashes occur most frequently in urban areas where pedestrian activity and traffic volumes are greater compared to rural areas. The National Safety Council estimates that 85.7 percent of all nonfatal pedestrian crashes in the United States occur in urban areas and 14.3 percent occur in rural areas. However, 25 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur in rural areas, where vehicle speeds are higher than on city streets. In addition, many rural areas have no sidewalks, paths, or shoulders to serve as separated pedestrian facilities.

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In terms of crash location, 65 percent of crashes involving pedestrians occur at non-intersections.This is particularly true for pedestrians under age 9, primarily because of dart-outs into the street. For ages 45 to 65, pedestrian crashes are approximately equal for intersections and non-intersections. Pedestrians age 65 and older are more likely to be struck at intersections (60 percent) compared to non-intersections (40 percent), since older pedestrians tend to cross at intersections more often than younger ones. Moreover, some older pedestrians have physical and vision disabilities that place greater demand on intersection design. Studies have shown that older pedestrians are particularly overrepresented in crashes at intersections involving left-turning and right-turning vehicles.