While Florida remains atop the list of states’ pedestrian death rates, the state overall has seen recent decreases, while some area counties have the fewest pedestrian accidents in the state.
The Governors Highway Safety Association announced in its pedestrian traffic fatalities report earlier this month that 1.35 per 100,000 Florida pedestrians died from January to June 2015, coming ahead of Arizona (1.27), Delaware (1.27) and all other states. But the number of Florida pedestrian deaths decreased by 4 percent from 2014 to 2015, the report said.
Meanwhile, Alachua and Marion counties had the fewest number of pedestrian accidents — when bicycle accidents are added in — from 2010 to 2014 for Florida counties with more than 200,001 residents, according to a Florida Department of Transportation report released in January. Of counties with 50,001 to 200,000 residents, Putnam and Columbia had the fewest.
Nationwide, traffic fatalities are accounting for a larger percentage of the total traffic fatalities, said Kara Macek, a Governors Highway Safety Association spokeswoman. Of all traffic fatalities nationwide, pedestrians now account for 15 percent, she said.
“More people are out walking, and more cars are on the road,” she said. “The increase in distracted driving [and walking] is certainly not helping matters.”
Trenda McPherson, state bicycle and pedestrian safety program manager at the FDOT, said she has been working to make pedestrian safety a priority for those enrolled in traffic school.
In addition to a lack of knowledge of traffic rules, the growth of Florida’s population and high tourism account for many pedestrian deaths, McPherson said.
“There are 98 million tourists that might not know our laws and are not very comfortable driving around,” she said. “Our weather is also perfect for walking and biking.”
Ashley Jefferson, a 20-year-old history student at the University of Florida, was riding her bicycle to school in 2015 when a Honda Civic made a right turn along Gainesville’s University Avenue and ran into her. Though she said her bicycle took most of the damage, she broke her ankle when she hit the pavement and her bike fell on her.
“The driver didn’t know that I was making a left when I put my left arm out,” Jefferson said. “He literally said that he thought I was just stretching. People need to learn how to share the road with others.”
FDOT is taking precautions like increasing times for pedestrians to cross at intersections, McPherson said.
“We are targeting key areas [statewide] that need the most infrastructure,” she said. “We have done a great job in increasing awareness, like having people be well-lit at night, properly crossing the crosswalks and bikers riding in the correct lane.”
McPherson said it is Floridians’ duty to take care of each other and learn how to share the road with more than just drivers.
“If we are signaling and becoming better at predicting each other, we will see a definite decrease in pedestrian and bicycle accidents,” she said. “Our goal is to empower people to be safer on the road.”
Macek said there are three main areas that need improvement when it comes to pedestrian safety. “We need a multifaceted approach involving the three E’s of highway safety: better engineering and infrastructure that prioritizes pedestrian safety, strong laws and enforcement, and continued public education efforts.”