California pedestrian deaths projected to jump 12 percent

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Last year could prove to be one of the deadliest years in two decades for pedestrians countrywide, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a national coalition of state highway safety agencies.

Based on preliminary numbers for the first half of 2015, the group projects a 10 percent jump nationwide in walking fatalities, the largest year-over-year increase on record.

"The fact that we’re moving in the wrong direction, and in a significant way, is very concerning," said Richard Retting, one of the report's authors.

The group calculated its full-year projection based on preliminary numbers through June and estimated a typical increase of 25 percent in reported fatalities during the second half of the year, taking into account seasonal weather conditions leading to more walking.

Researchers believe an uptick in driving last year due to the improving economy and low gas prices could be to blame for the increase in deaths. The number of people walking may also be growing as metropolitan areas improve walkability and encourage more physical activity for health and environmental reasons.

While California was not among the states with the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per capita, the data suggests the state's fatalities could jump by as much as 12 percent over 2014. California recorded the highest number of deaths among the states at 347 through June.

"When you have the highest number of pedestrian deaths, you have the biggest opportunity to do something about it," said Retting.

Several California cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, have begun ambitious programs to eliminate pedestrian deaths and improve road safety as part of an international Vision Zero initiative.

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