A new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says pedestrian deaths have increased at a much faster rate than overall traffic deaths between 2009 and 2016. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Pedestrian deaths have reached the highest level in 28 years,  largely because of the nation’s appetite for fast arterial roads in urban-suburban areas and the ubiquitous SUVs that rule them, an insurance research group has found.

Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2016, up 46 percent from 2009, when such deaths were at a low point, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said in a report issued Tuesday. That’s the most pedestrian deaths since 1990, and at a much faster rate than for overall traffic fatalities, which rose 11 percent over the same period.

The pedestrian deaths occurred mostly when it was dark and mostly on roads designed to funnel urban or suburban traffic onto freeways, the institute says. The crashes generally occur where there are no intersections or poorly designed crosswalks that tempt pedestrians to dash across multiple lanes of swiftly moving vehicles. The crashes often involved SUVs or vehicles with a lot of horsepower, which suggests that many of the crashes also involved excess speed.

“This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue,” IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement.

The report — which analyzed federal crash data from 2009 to 2016, along with details related to the type of roadway, vehicle and other factors — says 5,987 pedestrians died in crashes in 2016, or about 16 percent of all traffic deaths. More than half occurred in areas most people would consider to be either city or suburb in type. The biggest increase (67 percent) occurred on the arterial roadways, with 50 percent at non-intersections and 56 percent in the dark, the institute says.

In addition to better roadway and crosswalk design, the institute says higher standards for headlights could reduce pedestrian deaths. Since 2016, the institute has issued ratings on headlights. Though many vehicles now have running lights, they are intended to make the vehicles more visible during the day, while many models have headlights that do not perform well when it’s dark, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said.

“Vehicle headlights used when it’s dark are not performing as well as they could. Our testing shows that some vehicles have headlights on low beams that allow drivers to see twice as far down the right-side of the road on a straightaway than headlights on other vehicles,” Rader said in an email. Since 2016, the institute has issued ratings on headlights.

The report can be found here.

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