Twice in two weeks, pedestrians who were struck by cars have died in the Bangor area. These incidents highlight the prevalence of crashes involving pedestrians in Maine. It also shows that efforts to reduce these collisions have been inadequate.
On Jan. 14, Peter McIntosh was struck by car on Summer Street, behind the Bangor Police Station. He died a week later. At about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle on Route 15 in Orrington. The pedestrian died at the scene of the crash. Both crashes occurred after sunset.
Last year, according to new data from the Maine Department of Transportation, 17 pedestrians died after being struck by vehicles. That was three times the number who died in 2018, but in line with previous years. The average for the previous four years was 12 fatalities a year, with a high of 18 in 2015, the highest number in nearly two decades of data from the Department of Transportation and the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.
“It is hard to nail down reasons [for these crashes],” said Bob Skehan, director of the Office of Safety at the Maine Transportation Department. “It would be good to know because then we would know what to do.”
Although each crash is different, there are common threads through these collisions, as shown by Transportation Department data. The highest number of vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur in November and December, when daylight is at a minimum. There are also significant numbers of them in July and August when more people tend to be outside walking. The hours from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. are the most dangerous for pedestrians, with the highest number of crashes occurring between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., again when visibility is limited.
The victims in these collisions are more likely to be male, and between the ages of 30 and 60, although 49 children under the age of 9 who were walking were struck by vehicles from 2014 to 2018.
There are nearly three times as many collisions involving pedestrians in urban areas, where there are both more vehicles and more people walking. But the number of fatalities in these collisions were the same from 2014 to 2018, when 33 pedestrians were killed in both urban and rural settings. The higher fatality rate in rural areas is likely because vehicles are traveling faster when they encounter a pedestrian in the road way in these areas.
What can be done to reduce fatal vehicle-pedestrian collisions? Greater separation between vehicles and those walking and on bikes, more and clearer crosswalks and more and better maintained sidewalks that are clear of snow and ice can help, especially in urban areas. Yet, Maine is a largely rural state, so sidewalks and bike lanes are a rarity in many areas.
So, much of the prevention boils down to educating both drivers and pedestrians, Transportation Department officials said. Pedestrian safety is a shared responsibility, Skehan stressed.
Motorists need to slow down, put down the cellphone (that is state law now), and pay attention to the road and what is around them.
Likewise, pedestrians should stow their phones and ear buds and follow state laws, which include the requirement that people walk against traffic when a sidewalk is not available and they must walk in the roadway. Using a crosswalk is also important, but not a failsafe measure to cross streets.
Pedestrians, especially in the early morning and evening, need to ensure they are wearing bright colors to be as visible as possible. If a pedestrian is wearing dark blue in the dark or low light, a driver can’t see them until they are 55 feet away. The distance increases to 100 feet if the pedestrian is wearing white and 500 feet if the walker is wearing a reflective color. A car traveling at 60 miles per hour needs 260 feet to stop. As a result, “the physics and math,” don’t work if the pedestrian is not highly visible, said Patrick Adams, a transportation planner at the Maine Department of Transportation.
Adams has handed out more than 100,000 reflective stips and wrist bands to Maine police and sheriffs department in recent years. Law enforcement officers, in turn, hand them out, particularly to pedestrians they encounter in the early morning, evenings and night.
All this guidance seems inadequate given the scope of the problem. But better awareness needs to be a driving force behind making Maine safer for pedestrians.