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Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-042
Date: November 2003
A Review of Pedestrian Safety Research in the United States and Abroad
Part 4. Summary and Discussion
This synthesis report reviewed existing pedestrian research, particularly as it relates to pedestrian crash characteristics and the effects of various engineering and roadway safety treatments (much less attention was given to educational and enforcement measures related to pedestrians). Emphasis was placed on pedestrian research conducted in the past 10 years.
In addition to reviewing research published in U.S. literature, this report features a limited number of research studies from other countries, and authors in five other countries were hired to conduct similar summaries of pedestrian research in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Sweden. This process resulted in the consideration of non-English articles and reports from those countries, with key results given in the research summary. These summaries are provided as separate attachments to this report and are found at the following Web site: http://www.walkinginfo.org/rd/international.htm
Part 1 of this report provides an introduction to the pedestrian safety problem. Guides and model pedestrian programs developed in the U.S. in recent years are also discussed, along with illustrations of some of the major pedestrian crash types and countermeasures.
It is clear that pedestrian safety has emerged in recent years as a topic of growing interest and concern. As far back as the 1920s, pedestrian collisions resulted in about 40 percent of all traffic fatalities, annually reaching more than 15,000 pedestrian deaths in the 1930s.
As motorization advanced, that proportion fell, and pedestrian deaths now annually number approximately 5,000 to 6,000 and represent approximately 12-15 percent of traffic deaths each year. This decline is presumably the product of: increased attention to pedestrian control and safety measures and pedestrian safety education; and a change in exposure factors on trips that formerly would have been made on foot that came to be made in a motor vehicle. Other factors also may play a role. Detailed pedestrian exposure data are not available that illuminate pedestrian trip choices and amount of walking on a nationwide basis.
Pedestrian Crash Experience
Part 2 of this report deals with pedestrian crash characteristics. Research since the 1970s of pedestrian crash databases has given us a better understanding of crash causes and related factors. For example, night conditions greatly increase pedestrian crash risk, and, while pedestrian collisions primarily occur in urban areas, higher speed rural collisions more often result in pedestrian deaths. Fridays and Saturdays are the most common days for pedestrian collisions, perhaps because of increased drinking by pedestrians and motorists and more walking exposure on these days.
We know that children are over-involved in pedestrian collisions per population. This is particularly true for males age 5-9. Older pedestrians (particularly above age 65) are much more likely to be killed as pedestrians, possibly because of their increased frailty. Alcohol consumption by the pedestrian is a factor in 40 percent or more of pedestrian deaths, and is a particular factor for male pedestrians age 25-44.
The most common pedestrian crash types include dart-outs, intersection dash, and turning-vehicle collisions. Pedestrians are cited as being solely at fault 43.2 percent of the time, compared with 34.8 percent solely motorist fault. Of course, the assignment of fault depends to an extent on the judgment and biases of the reporting police officers.
Overview of Pedestrian Crash Countermeasures and Safety Programs
The U.S. is the most motorized nation on earth (motor vehicles per capita), and priorities have skewed in favor of the motorist and against the pedestrian. In recent years, however, some attempts have been made to give more consideration to pedestrians. Sometimes this is addressed directly in terms of increased safety for pedestrians accomplished through a variety of traffic calming and other measures. Sometimes the effort is framed as creating a more pedestrian-friendly walking environment in the interest of an improved quality of life, but increased safety is clearly a benefit.
Traffic professionals have had to proceed with less comprehensive knowledge than is desirable about the effectiveness of some measures. While many evaluation results are reported in the literature, it is not always possible to know with sufficient confidence what works and what does not, particularly under specific traffic and roadway situations, because of difficulties in conducting crash evaluations of pedestrian treatments. Low crash samples and threats of regression to the mean, among other difficulties, confound firm conclusions. Thus, when reviewing dozens of published articles and papers on pedestrian research for this report, efforts were made to summarize the results of the best available information and studies.
Many studies were excluded from this synthesis because of questionable research methods or insufficient sample sizes, or because they did not specifically address the safety effects of pedestrian treatments. While this does not imply that every study mentioned in this report is of the highest possible quality, there is a considerable amount of valuable information on the effectiveness of roadway and other treatments for pedestrians. In addition to pedestrian crash data, numerous studies use pedestrian and motorist behavior, vehicle speeds, conflicts, and other measures when analyzing the effects of different pedestrian treatments.
Some major findings are:
Summary reports of pedestrian research are provided at http://www.walkinginfo.org/rd/international.htm for the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Australia. While much has been learned from pedestrian research over the past two or three decades, there is still much to discover about measures that might affect safety and mobility for those who choose to walk.