CHARLOTTE, NC (Adam Bell/The Charlotte Observer) - Pedestrian deaths by vehicles grew at a higher rate last year than at any other time in the past 40 years, a new study found, and Charlotte and the Carolinas also saw significant increases.
The study by the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that the number of pedestrians killed last year increased by 11 percent over 2015. There were 621 more deaths estimated for 2016, for a total of 5,997, than the prior year.
"This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming," study author Richard Retting said in a statement. The association based its estimates on data from the first half of 2016.
The Carolinas were among 34 states that saw an increase in fatalities in the first six months of last year.
North Carolina's estimated 96 pedestrian deaths during that time was a nearly 25 percent increase compared to the first half of 2015, according to the report. South Carolina had a 16 percent increase, with 66 deaths, it said.
Charlotte deaths rising
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police handled 20 pedestrian fatalities last year, more than double the nine deaths in 2015, according to Sgt. Dave Sloan with the major crash investigations unit.
Last year also saw the most fatalities since 2012, when there were 21.
In addition to factors cited in the survey, Sloan said drunk drivers and people not obeying pedestrian laws also contribute to the rising fatality totals.
Such laws include crossing at crosswalks and starting that walk only when a signalized white walk light is on.
So far this year, CMPD has dealt with seven pedestrian fatalities, one more than for the same period last year. Statewide, a preliminary report shows there have been 35 deaths to date, Sloan said.
The Charlotte fatalities included a hit-and-run on Lawyers Road in January, a pedestrian who was not in a marked crosswalk while crossing Billy Graham Parkway in March and a pedestrian who crossed mid-block on Statesville Avenue in January.
CMPD does a lot of educational programs in schools and elsewhere, as well as periodically runs public awareness campaigns at busy pedestrian sites as part of a state program, "Watch For Me NC." They distribute safety tips, hand out fluorescent arm and shoulder bands and issue warning citations.
For instance, in about 75 minutes in December CMPD issued 33 warnings to drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk on Trade Street at Johnson & Wales University. Earlier in the year, a woman had suffered traumatic brain injury after a vehicle hit her in the crosswalk there.
Also at the December event, nearly 140 pedestrians received warnings for not crossing in a crosswalk or crossing against the signalized hand when it displayed a "Do Not Walk" warning.
One reminder police often need to make is for pedestrians to use the nearest crosswalk after getting off a bus, Sloan said.
On Albemarle Road, for instance, Sloan has seen people exit a bus then try to cross six lanes of traffic rather than use the nearby crosswalk.
"We plead with (pedestrians), if you get off a bus at a city bus stop, take the extra 10 seconds to walk that 20 feet down the road to the intersection to cross there," Sloan said. "It's amazing how many people will cross 10 feet away from the crosswalk," even with police around.
Factors in deaths
The report cited several factors that are contributing to the increase in deaths nationwide, including alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians, lower gas prices that lead to more people on the roads and distractions for both drivers and walkers using cell phones.
The nonprofit association represents highway safety offices for states, territories and Washington, D.C.
Other highlights in the report include:
? 2016 could be the first year since 1990 with more than 6,000 pedestrian deaths.
? Between 2010 and 2015, pedestrian fatalities increased by 25 percent while total traffic deaths increased by about 6 percent during that time.
? Alcohol use by the driver or pedestrian was reported in about half of all traffic crashes resulting in a pedestrian death in 2015.