Police investigate a car crash on Broadway in Bangor that killed a pedestrian on Friday, Dec. 17. (Sawyer Loftus | BDN) Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

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Last year, according to data released by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, highway fatalities decreased in Maine, bucking a national trend. That is good news.

Missing from the late December press release, however, was the fact that pedestrian deaths in Maine have been on the rise. Last year, 20 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in Maine, tying 2017 for the deadliest year on record.

As of Dec. 28, motor vehicle-related incidents claimed the lives of 149 people in Maine compared to 164 in 2020 and 157 in 2019.

Nationally, more than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021 showing the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. This puts the country on track to have one of the highest years for losses from motor vehicle crashes in recent years, the bureau of highway safety said.  

“It is hard to pinpoint exactly why some years are higher or lower than others, but this year we increased our public outreach  through paid media, social media, and digital media. Additionally, fewer people were observed driving distracted  while using hand-held devices, and 91.8% of people were observed wearing a seat belt. These factors combined may  have led to fewer deaths,” Lauren Stewart, the Director of Maine’s Bureau of Highway Safety, said in the press release.

While the overall decline in traffic deaths is good news, the rise in pedestrian fatalities is a worrisome trend that requires more attention from all of us.

On Dec. 17, Gary Rich, 74, was crossing Broadway near York and Oak streets in Bangor when he was struck by a pickup truck. He was immediately transported to a local hospital, but later died.

The number of Maine pedestrians killed in crashes has generally been on an upward trend since 2015, when 19 pedestrians died, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. Twenty pedestrians died two years later in 2017, setting the record for deadliest year that was tied last year.

Crashes involving pedestrians can happen any time, but Department of Transportation data show that the evening hours remain most dangerous for pedestrians. December is also the most common month for pedestrian crashes, and Friday is the most common day, according to the department.

The Department of Transportation evaluates every fatal crash to study the circumstances that led up to it, BDN reporter Sawyer Loftus  reported last month. The agency looks into factors including lighting, whether the driver was intoxicated and whether the pedestrian was distracted by a phone, said Patrick Adams, the department’s active transportation planner.

Generally, crashes that kill pedestrians tend to be in rural areas where lighting is more sparse and cars are traveling faster, making it less likely a pedestrian can survive a crash, he said.

Both pedestrians and drivers need to follow the rules of the road for everyone’s safety. That means drivers have to yield to pedestrians at marked crosswalks, but pedestrians shouldn’t just assume cars will stop. Pedestrians should also ensure they are visible, walking against traffic where there is no sidewalk and wearing light colored clothing and reflective gear in the pre-dawn and evening hours.

The Department of Transportation is redoing its statewide pedestrian safety plan that will serve as a framework for the agency and road improvements. But that work won’t be completed until the end of the year.

And, Adams cautioned, creating a new plan won’t be an immediate fix because so much of the state’s transportation infrastructure is built around automobiles.

That means all of us — as drivers and pedestrians — need to take steps to make our roadways safer. Drivers in particular need to slow down, pay attention to the road and put that cell phone down.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...