Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
July 1, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
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Research Shows Need for Countermeasures to Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities on Interstate Highways

Although United States Interstate highways provide the safest roads in the country for vehicles, they are a danger to pedestrians. More than 10 percent of all pedestrian fatalities occur on Interstate highways, although the Interstate system includes only 1 percent of the total road mileage. Pedestrian deaths comprise 12 percent of all fatalities on Interstate highways.

Christopher D. Johnson reported the results of a study of these statistics in "Pedestrian Fatalities on Interstate Highways: Characteristics and Countermeasures." The paper appeared in the Transportation Research Board's Transportation Research Record No. 1578: Pedestrian and Bicycle Research 1997.

The researchers collected data on pedestrian fatalities from 1991 to 1993 in three states with a large number of Interstate pedestrian fatalities: Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina. The data highlighted factors that contribute to pedestrian fatalities on freeways and identified activities likely to result in a pedestrian being on the freeway.


Lighting Conditions and Conspicuity

Eighty percent of pedestrian Interstate fatalities occurred after dark, with more than half on unlighted highway sections. Drivers often stated that they did not see the pedestrians, although a 1995 study of pedestrian crashes in Alabama found that crash victims were 2.5 times more likely to be wearing light clothing than dark.

Alcohol and Drugs

Only the Texas data included blood alcohol levels. Texas data showed that about a third of fatally injured pedestrians had been drinking. Vehicles struck most of these people while they were walking in the roadway, and most of these incidents occurred after dark.

Characteristics of Drivers Involved

Twenty percent of the fatalities involved a hit-and-run driver. Nearly 80 percent of drivers involved in the study were male. Driver ages ranged from 16 to 78, with the highest number in the 25 to 34 age group.

Characteristics of Pedestrians Involved

Males also comprised the larger group of pedestrians killed (80 percent), with the greatest number in the 25 to 34 age group. More than half the fatalities happened on weekends; almost 40 percent occurred near an entrance or exit ramp.


The graph below shows the distribution of pedestrian activities that lead up to the fatalities in this study.

Crossing or Entering

The most common reason for pedestrians to be on the highway, involving 40 percent of the crashes studied, was to cross it. The police reports indicated that often "the motorist did not have time to react to the pedestrian or simply never saw the pedestrian at all."

Pushing or Working on Vehicles

In 18 percent of the accidents, pedestrians had mechanical problems with their own vehicles and were either working on them or pushing them out of the roadway. In 40 percent of these incidents, the pedestrians were on the shoulder. The accidents involved driver inattention, sleepiness, or drunkenness.

Standing or Lying in Roadway

Ten percent of the pedestrians were standing or lying in the roadway; several demonstrated suicidal behavior. One pedestrian was picking up aluminum cans; two others were fighting. Many drivers involved in this category of accident said they saw the pedestrians too late to avoid hitting them.

Tending to or Involved in Previous Crash

Ten percent of fatally injured pedestrians were in the roadway because of a previous crash. In some instances, they were injured or had been thrown from their vehicles. In other cases, people were exchanging information, inspecting crash damage, or waiting for help. The pedestrian fatality may have resulted from inattentive drivers and poor lighting.

Walking in Roadway with Traffic or Against Traffic

More than 90 percent of the crashes involving pedestrians walking in the roadway happened after dark. Contributing factors included suicidal behavior, driver inattention, and alcohol use.

Walking or Standing on Shoulder

Pedestrians who were struck by vehicles while walking or standing on the road shoulder comprised 6 percent of the fatalities. In some cases, pedestrians were on the roadway illegally. Driver error caused most of these crashes; police cited more than half the drivers with failure to remain in a single lane. Several drivers cited distractions (such as swatting at a wasp or changing radio stations) as contributing to the crash.


Hitchhiking accounted for less than 1 percent of the pedestrian fatalities. The researcher points out that this figure may be misleading, as reporting officers may not have been able to determine that a pedestrian was hitchhiking at the time of the accident.

Working in Roadway (Construction)

Less than 1 percent, only two fatalities, involved road work or construction; the drivers were at fault in both instances.

Getting On or Off Vehicle, Playing in Roadway, Other, and Unknown

These categories included less than 4 percent of the fatalities. Some cases involved people who were leaving a vehicle, such as a driver who was pulling over to trade seats with a passenger. The one case classified as "playing in the roadway" involved a drugged person. In another crash, the pedestrian was hit while walking in a rest area parking lot.


A survey of the National Association of Governors Highway Safety Representatives (NAGHSR) from all fifty states and the District of Columbia reported on countermeasures to lower pedestrian fatalities on the Interstate.

Keeping Pedestrians off Interstates

Not all states restrict pedestrians and bicyclists from entering an Interstate highway. Twenty-five states post, at all entry points, signs that restrict pedestrians, but more than two-thirds of these states post signs in text only. Nine states do not post signs. Within the past five years, thirteen states have built overpasses for pedestrian crossing. Other programs include conducting educational campaigns to alert people about dangers to pedestrians and installing barriers along the roadway to restrict pedestrian access.

Assisting Unintended Pedestrians on Interstates

Thirty-one states reported they have roadside assistance vehicles to help people after a breakdown or crash. Twenty-four states mentioned emergency telephones, usually a mile or half-mile apart.

Most states reported that police officers routinely stop when they see pedestrians on an Interstate. State maintenance vehicles also stop to help motorists. Some states post signs that inform motorists to call 911 for help or maintain toll-free emergency cell phone hotlines.

The Mayday program in Minnesota takes advantage of Global Positional System (GPS) satellite technology. Motorists use a push-button device to call for emergency or roadside assistance. The device pinpoints the location from which the call originated. When a crash happens, the system automatically notifies emergency personnel of the extent of damage and the location of the incident. The Mayday program can also help quickly locate and rescue unintended pedestrians from the highway.

Alerting Drivers to Pedestrians

Four states post signs to warn motorists of pedestrian crossings. Other design adaptations helpful to drivers include maintaining wide shoulders and using rumble strips to let drivers know when they are leaving the roadway.

Suggestions for Improvement

Further suggestions from the NAGHSR representatives included: keeping housing isolated from highways, educational campaigns, public service announcements, fencing open areas to prevent entry, providing a network of pedestrian facilities, fining non-emergency pedestrians, and outlawing hitchhiking.


The table below lists the number of pedestrian fatalities for each state from 1992 through 1994. The list ranks the states according to the ratio of fatalities per 100 million Interstate vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT).

State Ranking of Interstate Highway Pedestrian Fatalities per 100 Million Interstate Vehicle Kilometers Traveled, 1992-1994

State Rank Interstate Pedestrian Fatalities 1992-94 Interstate VKT 1992-1994 (100 millions) Ratio State Rank Interstate Pedestrian Fatalities 1992-94 Interstate VKT 1992-1994 (100 millions) Ratio
TX 1 298 1826.55 .1631 IL 27 64 1138.27 .0562
NM 2 34 248.52 .1368 CT 28 21 397.96 .0528
DE 3 6 49.02 .1224 PA 29 42 796.73 .0527
NV 4 17 140.27 .1212 SC 30 22 420.91 .0523
MO 5 68 715.46 .0950 UT 31 15 288.19 .0520
LA 6 39 427.17 .0913 NE 32 7 136.36 .0513
MT 7 9 102.36 .0879 MI 33 44 902.11 .0488
DC 8 2 22.90 .0873 IA 34 12 251.88 .0476
OR 9 29 339.29 .0855 CO 35 17 377.57 .0450
SD 10 7 83.09 .0842 VA 36 36 802.49 .0449
CA 11 271 3253.31 .0833 WV 37 8 207.25 .0386
FL 12 86 1076.78 .0799 OH 38 46 1209.39 .0380
RI 13 7 87.74 .0798 MA 39 24 635.92 .0377
NJ 14 39 508.03 .0768 WA 40 22 597.65 .0368
AZ 15 31 415.89 .0745 IN 41 22 639.51 .0344
MS 16 16 219.68 .0728 MN 42 15 436.59 .0344
AK 17 4 57.16 .0700 KS 43 8 240.81 .0332
AL 18 30 439.71 .0682 VT 44 2 63.76 .0314
HI 19 5 73.85 .0677 KY 45 13 452.81 .0287
OK 20 24 359.55 .0668 WY 46 2 98.62 .0203
NY 21 63 966.08 .0652 WI 47 5 362.62 .0138
NC 22 39 602.93 .0647 ME 48 1 107.65 .0093
MD 23 36 596.27 .0604 ID 49 1 119.50 .0084
AR 24 15 248.95 .0603 ND 50 0 59.77 .0000
GA 25 61 1022.28 .0597 NH 51 0 102.63 .0000
TN 26 39 666.36 .0585          


Since almost a third of Interstate pedestrian fatalities involved people with mechanical trouble or people who had been in a crash, the author suggested that drivers prepare themselves for situations in which they may be "unintended pedestrians." He recommended carrying reflective clothing and equipment to make yourself visible to other motorists. He also advised that instead of parking on the shoulder and trying to fix a problem, drivers should, when possible, leave the roadway.

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.

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