The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As days get short, police and safety advocates warn of pedestrian risk

As the season changes and the days grow shorter, law enforcement and safety officials are reminding motorists and pedestrians that fall is one of the most dangerous times of the year for people to cross streets and roads.

The advisory comes after two recent pedestrian deaths in the Washington metro area and concern about the recent overall increase in pedestrian deaths nationwide, perhaps as a result of distracted driving.

From 2010 to 2016, more pedestrians died in October than in July, upending a long-standing pattern in which the majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in July and August, said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs. He also cited a 2009 study by the University of Michigan that analyzed fatalities per mile and found autumn to be the deadliest period, with October at the top.

The Governors Highway Safety Association — whose report on pedestrian deaths earlier this year charted the steepest increase on record, with an 11 percent jump in 2016 — noted that 74 percent of such fatalities occur after dark. More than one in four occur between 6 p.m. and 9  p.m., regardless of the day of the week, according to National Traffic Safety Administration data cited in the association’s report.

On Sunday, Prince George’s County police reported that a female pedestrian was killed that morning while crossing Route 1 near the University of Maryland campus in College Park. Nearly a week ago, a Gaithersburg woman was struck and fatally injured while crossing Muddy Branch Road, Montgomery County police said. The victim in that crash was walking across the southbound lanes when she was hit by a black Lexus.

This map shows the worst D.C. intersections for pedestrians

Sgt. John O’Brien, with Montgomery County police’s Collision Reconstruction Unit, said in an interview Friday that the Gaithersburg crash is under investigation. He also said accidents involving pedestrians tend to rise this time of the year because of the shorter days, along with the annual return to school and the switch from daylight saving time. This year, clocks will be set back an hour on Sunday, Nov. 5.

Safety advocates say the sharp spike in pedestrian deaths in recent years is probably a consequence of economic recovery since 2008 — which has put more vehicles on the road — but they have also raised the question about whether the almost universal use of smartphones, in the hands of drivers and pedestrians both, has contributed to the increase, too.

–This post has been updated to correct the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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