Kansas pedestrian deaths more than double in 2020

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Pedestrian fatalities more than doubled in Kansas last year, climbing to their highest mark in the last 16 years, preliminary state highway data shows.

The state recorded 45 pedestrian fatalities in 2020, a 150% increase over the 18 deaths  reported during 2019.

It was the highest number reported since 2005 and the most since 2016, when 41 fatalities occurred.

The number of pedestrian deaths came at a time when overall driving plummeted during the pandemic, although drivers were increasingly speeding on less congested roads.

“Traffic was down, no doubt about it,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“We had more people out there on the road who were driving in ways that were not exactly very safe,” she said.

At the beginning of the year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited one published report showing that traffic speeds increased by 22% in some metro areas.

NHTSA also noted that 65% of drivers taken to trauma centers after a serious crash tested positive for drugs or alcohol during 2020.

“More people were speeding, more people were driving impaired and really engaging in unsafe behaviors that not only put themselves, but others at risk,” Fischer said.

The Kansas numbers reflect what’s happening nationally, where the increase in the pedestrian death rate is now expected to set a new record in 2020.

A recent report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association projected a 4.8% increase in pedestrian deaths for 2020, rising to 6,712 from 6,412 in 2019.

Once a 13% decrease in vehicle miles traveled is considered, the pedestrian fatality rate was 2.3 per billion vehicle miles traveled, an increase from 1.9 the year before.

The GHSA said it was the largest annual increase in the pedestrian death rate since 1975.

The trend in dangerous driving has been seen in Kansas, with drivers hitting 100 mph more frequently on the state’s roadways.

It’s not known just how many of the state’s 45 pedestrian deaths occurred on a highway, although past research by Kansas transportation officials shows about half occur in more traditional urban areas while the other half occur on state highways.

Further, a pedestrian killed on a highway can be a driver who left their vehicle because of a breakdown or crash and walked to get help when they were struck.

Kansas Highway Patrol data shows the state saw a substantial increase in the number of drivers reaching 100 mph or more on state roads in 2020.

The data shows the Highway Patrol wrote 60% more tickets for drivers speeding at 100 mph in 2020 than it did a year earlier.

The patrol handed out 2,831 tickets last year for drivers racing along at 100 mph or more, an increase from 1,765 the previous year.

It was an extraordinary year for drivers speeding at 100 mph, since the average number of tickets doled out from 2016 to 2019 was 2,034.

Chris Bortz, traffic safety program manager for the Kansas Transportation Department, couldn’t be sure what led to the increase in pedestrian deaths during 2020.

He noted that the spike in 2020 came after the state recorded just 18 pedestrian fatalites in 2019, one of the lowest years since 2005.

There were 29 pedestrian fatalities in Kansas during 2018 and 34 in 2017.

Bortz said the increase in pedestrian fatalities could be related to the pandemic, but the agency has not yet had a chance to drill down on the data to be certain.

“The numbers in 2020 are going to be a little different when you look at different things,” he said. “2020 was just a different type of year.”