Floridians love this time of year. Fall is in the air as the weather cools a bit, pumpkin spice lattes can be found in our coffee shops, outdoor dining is more popular, rain showers are less frequent, we take our kids trick-or-treating on Halloween, and we get an extra hour of sleep as daylight saving time comes to an end. This change in the season signals the beginning of more time spent outside walking, biking, gardening, and many other activities we enjoy when the weather is cooler. Unfortunately, another thing that happens in the fall is an increase in the number of crashes involving pedestrians.
As most of us know, the Tampa Bay area has an infamous reputation when it comes to pedestrian safety. Various studies and reports, including Dangerous by Design 2014, have documented the challenges this region faces. Sometimes reputations are not deserved, but in this case, the numbers speak for themselves. All one needs to do is look at Pinellas County’s pedestrian crash data to see how the next five months increase the vulnerability of people walking along and across our streets. An analysis of 2014 statistics shows that the monthly pedestrian crash rate increased by nearly 30 percent during standard time months (October through February) as compared to daylight saving time months (March through September). With the time change, the hour between 5 PM and 6 PM is particularly dangerous, showing a significant spike in the occurrence of pedestrian crashes relative other times in the day.
The increase in pedestrian vulnerability during this time of year is not isolated to Pinellas County or the Tampa Bay region. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that more than one-quarter of the fatal crashes on Halloween night involved a pedestrian, compared to 14 percent on an average day. NHTSA also reported that a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every seven minutes in traffic crashes during daylight saving time. Most of those pedestrian deaths occurred in urban environments when it is dark, with 24 percent occurring from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and 32 percent occurring from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.
It is only natural to expect more people to be walking in Pinellas County during this time of year. The weather is very comfortable, there are more sidewalks and trails connecting to the places where we want to go, and the holiday season is right around the corner. For my family and me, our “walking season” begins with Halloween.
This Saturday night I expect to be walking with my wife and two kids amongst various superheroes, ghosts, ninjas, princesses, monsters, animals, and even a few vampires. We will most likely have an enjoyable and safe time for many reasons, including lots of families out engaging in very predictable pedestrian behavior, streets that are well lit by street and porch lights, kids that are equipped with glow sticks or flashlights to increase their visibility, and a general expectation that drivers should be looking for numerous children and adults on the streets on Halloween.
We can’t take that expectation for granted.
That’s why the Pinellas County MPO recognizes October 26th thru 30th as Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week (PSAW).
This annual campaign focuses attention to the safe movement of all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles on our roadways, especially at intersections, crosswalks, and mid-block crossing areas. We use this opportunity to continue to raise the visibility of this issue through advocacy efforts. For instance, in partnership with the Pinellas County School District, we will distribute over 100,000 pedestrian safety brochures to all public school students, private schools, senior centers and municipalities. In addition, PSAW also coincides with other safety campaigns throughout the month of October through local law enforcement agencies and the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Alert Today Alive Tomorrow program.
A great resource for safety information is the online portal for Safe Kids Worldwide. Safe Kids Worldwide is an international organization dedicated to reducing the amount of preventable injuries and fatalities in children. They have developed a great interactive infographic that outlines a series of unsafe pedestrian behaviors that children use when crossing the street. These behaviors include things such as walking while distracted by a phone or headphones, crossing at mid-block, and walking at night in dark clothes. The infographic also creatively illustrates common-sense solutions to improve pedestrian safety. I found these to be great tips to share with all road users and is an effective means of engaging kids in a conversation about safety.
Now it is up to us to redouble these efforts – and spread the word that pedestrian crashes are preventable events that can be dramatically reduced! Simple steps, like safe walkways and crossings, wearing bright colors at night and in the early morning, reduced speed, no drinking and driving, and strong law enforcement can dramatically change the equation. So let’s all have a “spooktacular” good time with our friends and families and don’t forget to keep an eye out for all those creatures that will be lurking around our neighborhoods this Halloween.