Local Traffic Safety Analyst Turning Attention To Pedestrian Dangers

Prompted by the release of a comprehensive nationwide survey on pedestrian safety, a local traffic and behavioral expert suggests that Americans today may be better off if they just stay inside their motor vehicles.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying pedestrian fatalities, especially considering the strides we’ve made in vehicle occupant protection over the years,” Dr Neil Chaudhary said. “But there’s no similar program initiative for pedestrians. Unfortunately, we can’t make heads any harder.”

Dr Chaudhary, who holds a PhD in Experimental Psychology, is a researcher and analyst specializing in traffic safety with Preusser Research Group. He lives locally with his family and serves Newtown as vice chair of the Legislative Council.

More recently Dr Chaudhary has been working voluntarily with former Legislative Council Chair Jeff Capeci to research options about centralizing Newtown’s emergency dispatch services.

His professional accomplishments are extensive at both the state and national levels; he has published extensively on vehicular and occupant safety, behaviors and safety equipment; and is a committee member of both the Alcohol and Other Drugs, and the Occupant Protection committees of the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board.

Until recently, Dr Chaudhary has not been presented many opportunities to research and analyze pedestrian safety issues. But on the day The Bee contacted him for comment on the newly released National Complete Streets Coalition pedestrian safety study, he was coincidentally engaged in one of his own investigations.

“I’m doing [a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] project looking at educational methods to reduce bike and pedestrian incidents among Latinos — especially those recently immigrated to the US,” he explained.

Dr Chaudhary spent some time ahead of the call looking over the National Complete Streets Coalition study, which ranks Connecticut 27 out of 50 states in pedestrian safety, and Hartford at 38 among the nation’s 51 largest metro areas.

According to that report, developed in partnership with AARP and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, in the decade from 2003 to 2012, 351 Connecticut residents were killed while walking.

The report, titled Dangerous by Design 2014, ranks each state and the nation’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The report also presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries by county and includes an online, interactive map showing the locations where people walking have been fatally struck by the driver of a vehicle.

The report found that the majority of pedestrian deaths likely could have been prevented with safer street design.


Making Streets Safer

While many streets throughout Connecticut and across the country are perilous for people walking, hundreds of communities are working to make their streets safe and welcoming for people on foot. In recent years, scores of communities have begun to redesign roads as “complete streets,” adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, reducing crossing distances and improving crosswalks.

Such design features have helped make walking safe and comfortable for everyone.

According to AARP Connecticut State Director Nora Duncan, “continuing to invest resources in making our streets safe for all users is key to ending these preventable deaths.”

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that are dangerous by design — engineered and operated for speeding traffic with little to no provision for the safety of people walking, biking or using public transit. And statistically, older adults, children and minorities are the most at risk while walking, dying in disproportionate numbers.

Joseph Cutrufo, Connecticut Advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, sees some improvement in the Nutmeg State.

“Although Connecticut is home to many high-speed arterial roadways with little in the way of pedestrian accommodations, there are signs of progress,” he said. “Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law a vulnerable user bill, which increases penalties on reckless drivers who injure or kill pedestrians, cyclists and other roadway users. We’re optimistic that the passage of this law, which advocates have supported for over four years, will have a positive impact on the safety of Connecticut’s roads.”

In Connecticut from 2003 to 2010, the average pedestrian death rate for non-Hispanic whites was 1.34, while the rate for Hispanics was 1.42 and 1.49 for African-Americans. In addition, while comprising just 13.8 percent of the total population, older adults over the age of 65 years old accounted for more than 28 percent of pedestrian fatalities between 2003 and 2010 and a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.76 in Connecticut. 

Pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children 15 and younger nationwide.


Impairment Factors

In his analysis, Dr Chaudhary pointed out that according to report data, 58 percent of pedestrian deaths in the decade studied occurred between 8 pm and 6 am. He also noted that the report lacked information on whether or to what extent alcohol or drugs may have played a role in those deaths, on either side of the steering wheel.

“An intoxicated pedestrian is more likely to step out into traffic, and the increased incidents of DUI enforcement may ironically cause drunk drivers to become drunk pedestrians who are more likely to get hit, or fall when they’re walking,” he observed. “The AARP study also doesn’t provide too much information about the role distractions like texting and using the phone as a pedestrian contribute to pedestrian incidents.”

He said Connecticut could make roadways a lot safer for pedestrians, but it might not deliver the desired safety effect.

“It’s an excellent idea, but at the same time you need to focus on education about things like distracted driving — and walking,” Dr Chaudhary said.

His project — targeting Latinos and recent immigrants — is developing and testing specific English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum that uses pedestrian and bicycle safety messages woven into language instruction.

“People come in to learn the language, so we’re using those lessons to also inform them about safety practices,” he said. “Walking around in the US — especially in dense urban and rural areas where immigrants may tend to be — is very different from their native countries. There are a bunch of nuances in traffic patterns and signage that may be hard to understand without specific training.”

The interactive map tied to the AARP study shows only one pedestrian fatality in Newtown, which occurred on Hawleyville Road in January 2010. But Newtown saw another pedestrian death in November 2012 involving a local 18-year-old in the Botsford area at the busy intersection adjacent to Plaza South.

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