More pedestrians are being killed in Butler County. Here’s what officials are doing about it.

The number of U.S. pedestrian deaths last year was the highest in nearly 30 years, and seven pedestrians were killed in Butler County — the most since at least 2012.

From 2013 to 2018, there were 429 pedestrian-involved accidents in Butler County and 109 in Warren County, according to the State Highway Patrol. Of those, 26 were fatal in Butler and six were fatal in Warren, according to OSP statistics reviewed by this news agency.

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In Ohio, more than 130 pedestrians were killed and 2,600 injured last year statewide, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. That’s down from 2017 when there were 145 pedestrian fatalities. But before that, it was up every year since 2013, when 88 pedestrians were killed in Ohio.

Across the country last year, nearly 6,300 pedestrians were killed, the most since 1990, according to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Pedestrians have been at fault in two-thirds of fatal crashes with improper crossing being the leading cause.

Butler County cities are taking steps and reviewing their traffic patterns in an effort to lower the number of pedestrians struck, officials said.

Scott Scrimizzi, Hamilton’s safety director, said to try to reduce pedestrian accidents downtown, two officers patrol the business district looking for distracted drivers and motorists who block intersections and crosswalks. He said when vehicles block an intersection and pedestrians are in the crosswalk at the same time, that’s “a recipe for disaster.”

Also, he said, when drivers turn right on a red light, which is legal in the state, they sometimes don’t pay attention to pedestrians. Because of distractions in the cars, motorists are concentrating on “everything except driving,” he said.

As Middletown prepares its Master Plan and Transportation Plan, “pedestrian components” are being considered for all ongoing plans, said Shelby Quinlivan, the city’s spokeswoman.

The Ohio Department of Transporation has several pedestrian improvements in Butler and Warren counties, including improvements in downtown Lebanon and Oxford. Other improvements include working with Monroe, and others, to purchase rapid flashing becons at crosswalks. Also, as ODOT programs new projects, traffic study engineer Brianne Hetzel said the state analyzes crash trends and looks for improvements.

Butler County and Liberty Twp. officials also are working on feasibility studies for a shared path along Cincinnati-Dayton Road (Yankee to Liberty Way), and a shared path/bridge extension over Liberty Way so people can walk from Liberty Center to VOA Park, Hetzel said.

Most deaths happen at night and away from intersections, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association report. From 2008 to 2017, the number of nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased by 45 percent, compared to an 11 percent increase in daytime pedestrian fatalities.

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“Pedestrians and motorists each have an important role in safety,” said Colonel Paul Pride, Patrol superintendent. “Through education and increased awareness, we can have a significant impact on reducing these crashes in our state.”

Smartphonesand SUVs

The increase in deaths could be linked to distracted driving and the rise in SUVs, which are more likely to kill a pedestrian than a passenger car, the report says.

The national study notes a significant growth in smartphone use, which can be a source of distraction. Pedestrian deaths had been declining for decades until 2009, which is when smartphone sales and data use began to spike, said Richard Retting, former top traffic safety official with New York City who authored the report.

“Cellphone use is one of the few metrics I can find that shows a consistent change, a large scale change, year after year,” Retting said.

There has also been a growing shift in U.S. vehicle sales away from passenger cars to light trucks and SUVs. The number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased by 50 percent from 2013 to 2017.

Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car, according to the report. That’s because SUVs are larger and are more likely to hit people in the head and torso, causing more serious injuries.

“Any time you’re hit by something, the force of the blow is how big the thing is that hit you times how fast it was traveling. So speed is a big factor in pedestrian deaths but also the size of the vehicle is a factor as well,” said Angie Schmitt, a writer with Streetsblog USA, which reports on walking, biking and transit conditions.

The increase in pedestrian deaths from 2008 to 2017 came as overall traffic deaths fell 6 percent. The national report notes that while vehicles have steadily added safety features that protect occupants, pedestrians “remain just as susceptible to sustaining serious or fatal injuries when struck by a motor vehicle.”

Pedestrians and motorists can follow these tips to increase pedestrian safety:

  • Walk on sidewalks whenever they are available.
  • When no sidewalk is available, walk facing traffic as far away from the edge of the roadway as possible.
  • Stay alert at all times, motorists and pedestrians should be prepared in case a hazardous situation arises.
  • Don't be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes and ears off the road.
  • Pedestrians should wear bright or reflective clothing, especially at night.
  • Pedestrians should cross where motorists expect them to, follow pedestrian signs and signals, and never assume a driver can see you.
  • Motorists are required to yield to pedestrians in a marked crosswalk and in unmarked crosswalks at intersections.
  • Motorists can use bright headlights when legally able to illuminate the roadway and possibly spot a pedestrian walking near the roadway.

SOURCE: State Highway Patrol