More pedestrians have been struck and killed by vehicles so far this year than in any year since 1994, a record that comes as the state enters a historically deadly time for pedestrians, officials said.
The Department of Transportation has already counted 18 pedestrian deaths so far in 2017, surpassing last year’s 17. Officials are currently investigating two more vehicle-related deaths that were reported last week in Portland and Augusta.
It is the fifth deadliest year on record, the worst since 1994, when 22 died.
And it’s expected to get worse as the days grow darker and visibility worsens for longer portions of the day, according Patrick Adams, DOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager.
November and December are the deadliest months of the year for pedestrians, he said. Eight out of last year’s 17 fatalities occurred in the last two months of the year, the same number as in 2015.
But he couldn’t explain what was causing the overall surge in pedestrian fatalities, a trend that’s been climbing over the last five years.
“Clearly something is going on and it’s not good,” said John Williams, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, which also tracks pedestrian fatalities. “While this year is a record, the last few years have been showing an increased number of pedestrian fatalities.”
In 2015, the DOT convened a workgroup to study the rise in pedestrian fatalities. With members from state agencies, law enforcement, and bicycle and pedestrian safety groups, the group identified 21 communities with the highest concentrations of crashes, nearly all of which are large municipalities.
But the group hasn’t made headway identifying a leading cause explaining why Maine’s roads are getting deadlier, Adams said. The data indicate several reasons for the increase, including unsafe intersections, and distracted drivers and pedestrians.
More pedestrian crashes occur in cities, but a greater number of people die in rural areas, where motorists drive at faster, more lethal speeds, Adams said.
Only 20 percent of people struck by a car doing 25 mph are killed, Adams said. But that rate jumps to 80 percent when a car is doing 45 mph, speeds more common in rural areas.