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State: Record 101 pedestrians died on Massachusetts roads in 2022



Graphic courtesy of Sharon Police

By Sam Drysdale

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 18, 2023……The number of pedestrians and bicyclists involved in on-the-road accidents in Massachusetts is on the rise after record-lows in 2020, with the most pedestrian fatalities on record occurring in 2022.

A recent department of transportation assessment on the safety of so-called vulnerable road users — those who use the roads but not in a motor vehicle, including pedestrians, bicyclists, roller bladers, and others — showed that 101 pedestrians died in crashes in 2022. The previous high of 83 pedestrian deaths was recorded in 2012, according to MassDOT data.

Bicyclist fatalities were also high in 2022, with 10 cyclists dying on the road, but did not spike to peaks reached in some previous years.

Every state is required to prepare a vulnerable road user assessment under the new federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. MassDOT has been collecting and analyzing data, and will next focus on doing outreach and using this information to identify projects to improve road safety. The plan will be updated again in 2027, alongside the Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

State Safety Engineer Bonnie Polin said some of the data uncovered in the assessment surprised her, including the number of accidents happening close to schools.

Statewide, 41 percent of fatal and serious injury bicycle crashes and 44 percent of pedestrian and skater crashes happened within 2,000 feet of schools.

Polin said MassDOT helps run a “Safe Routes to School” program, which as of the 2023-2023 academic year works with 60 percent of schools across in Massachusetts. Under that program, 79 infrastructure projects have been completed to help students walk or bike safely to school and 21 signs and roadlines have been put in place or have been designed.

But with this new data, Polin said the department is looking to “enhance” the program.

“One of the things we’re doing in 2023, is the state changed the definition of what a school zone is. It used to be K through eighth grade. And now we added ninth through twelfth grade, so as a result of that, we want to try and put in place some safety measures for communities to address high schools,” Polin said.

The department put out an offer to all 351 cities and towns to provide speed limit road signs that show a driver how fast they are going, she said. A little over a third of the state’s municipalities responded with interest in erecting these signs in newly-defined school zones. The department began their rollout this week.

“We understand the risk of being in a school zone, and we certainly understand the risk of speeding and speed-related issues. So this approach combines those two,” Polin said.

MassDOT also offered signage to all cities and towns to help raise awareness of the new four-foot passage law for cyclists.

The law former Gov. Charlie Baker signed in January requires drivers to keep at least four feet between them and those along the side of the road, whether that be pedestrians, cyclists, maintenance workers or other drivers who pulled their vehicle to the side of the roadway.

The law was also intended to make it clear to motorists that they can cross the center line, if safe to do so, if needed to pass a pedestrian or cyclists.

Over 4,000 signs with information about the four-foot passage law were requested by municipalities, and will be delivered across the next few weeks to about a third of the cities and towns around the state.

MassDOT is also using the data collected for the assessment to revamp bus stops, after it showed a correlation between accidents and transit proximity: 41 percent of pedestrian-involved crashes and 34 percent of bicyclist crashes occurred within 300 feet of bus stops statewide.

This statistic is even higher in Boston-area communities, where 45 percent of bicyclist crashes and 50 percent of pedestrian accidents happened within 300 feet of an MBTA bus stop.

The department is planning to use money available through the federal infrastructure law to fund safety improvements.

“We’re working with the MBTA and working with communities to try and enhance bus stops, this is a program we’re starting in 2024,” Polin said. “If we can enhance the bus stops and make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street to get on and off a bus, we’re making it safer for everyone … So that’s something that just came out of the numbers — I thought they were staggering.”

The department is also hoping to educate residents on the dangers of drinking or using drugs and walking close to roads.

Between 2017 and 2022, 25 percent of pedestrians hospitalized for non-fatal motor vehicle crash injuries were impaired from alcohol or drug use. Among cyclists, 16 percent of those sent to the hospital with injuries from a crash were under the influence.

“While we have great messaging about … designated drivers, you can’t have a designated walker. We need to send a message out to people that walking impaired is hazardous to your health,” Polin said.

The department is also considering road safety changes based on demographic data of vulnerable road users involved in accidents.

The assessment found that 100 percent of all Asian pedestrians and cyclists who died in accidents with motor vehicles were foreign-born.

“It does raise the question — are we getting the message out in certain communities? Can we help educate them?” Polin said. “Because in Asian countries, the walk indication for people to walk is a green person, not a white person — you know, the white light crossing the street. And so that tells us, do we need to change our messaging for certain communities?”

Data also shows that pedestrians over 55 on average had a death rate two times higher than younger age groups, and that from 2016 until 2021 Black pedestrians had rates of injury-related hospital stays three times higher on average than white pedestrians.

“The more we get this word out, I think when people see some of these stunning figures — I mean shockingly high figures — that alone raises awareness,” Polin said.

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