Pedestrian Death Surge Spurs DOT Safety Grants

A rise in the number of pedestrians involved in deadly traffic accidents has pushed the Department of Transportation to offer $2 million in grants for use in safety education and enforcement to those cities with the highest number of fatalities.

"When people think about safety they usually think about roads and trains and planes and buses. And very often they leave out the one method of transportation we all share," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said today. "Whether you drive or fly or take a train or ride a boat or use Metro, everyone in America is a pedestrian."

Foxx made the announcement at a busy intersection near DOT's Washington, D.C. headquarters, frequented by heavy foot-traffic. The setting displayed the point as a number of pedestrians jaywalked behind him during the press conference.

Eligible cities have to the end of August to apply for the funding, which would be split among six winners. The grants can be used for any number initiatives at the locality's discretion. For example, a city may choose to upgrade their crosswalks or other infrastructure.

The announcement dovetailed with the launch of a new federal website, " Everyone is a Pedestrian," which outlines safety and enforcement tips for communities.

Over 4,000 pedestrians were killed in 2011 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an 8 percent increase since 2009, and one of the few areas of road safety to worsen in terms of raw numbers. Foxx cited increased usage of mobile devices as a main cause of concern for both drivers and those on foot.

"A lot of times people will be wearing their earphones and headphones and you can get an accident that way," he said. "There are both structural challenges, behavioral challenges to dealing with this issue."

"Distracted driving, distracted walking, if that can be a phrase, we've got to encourage people to have an awareness that this problem is a real problem effecting our country and that their behaviors as they are driving or walking can impact our ability to keep people safe," Foxx continued.

The exact number of pedestrian fatalities related to distractions are difficult to track, and the Associated Press has previously written that even such accidents related to solely motor vehicles may be severely under-reported. But for a benchmark, in 2010 over 400,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers, or roughly 1 in 5 for every accident in the United States, according to the NHTSA.

Alcohol was also fingered as a culprit. Roughly half of all fatal pedestrian accidents saw either the walker or driver with a blood alcohol content over .08, the limit in every state.

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