Each year in Cobb County, there are double digit pedestrian deaths from traffic wrecks.
From 2013 to 2017, a total of 74 pedestrians were killed on Cobb’s streets, according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Over that same period, Gwinnett County saw 68 pedestrian fatalities, DeKalb had 119 and Fulton had 164, according to the GOHS.
Nationwide, the number of pedestrians killed in traffic collisions is increasing, according to a new study.
In a recently released report, the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates there were 6,227 pedestrians killed nationwide in motor vehicle crashes in 2018, the largest number of fatalities since 1990.
The GHSA based its estimate on data from the first six months of the year and historic trends.
Georgia saw 133 pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2018, up from 101 over the same period in 2017, according to preliminary adjusted data from the GHSA study.
Georgia is one of five states that accounted for nearly half — 46% — of all pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2018. The others are California (432), Florida (330), Texas (298) and Arizona (125).
Over the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017, the number of pedestrian fatalities nationwide has increased by 35% (from 4,414 to 5,977), while the combined number of all other traffic deaths declined by 6%.
Mike Register, Cobb’s chief of police, said traffic and pedestrian deaths have increased in Cobb due to the county’s growth in population and construction.
Register said while distracted drivers are part of the reason for the pedestrian deaths, distracted pedestrians are also a factor.
“We see a lot of individuals who are either taking pictures or trying to update social media or paying attention to their phone while they’re actually walking near a roadway. And I believe when you have both a distracted driver and a distracted pedestrian, you are certainly creating a dangerous combination.”
Officer Pete Jones, with Cobb police’s Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, said there were a total of 19 crashes in unincorporated Cobb that involved pedestrians, of which 17 involved fatalities.
But police determined that the pedestrian was primarily at fault in 13 of the 19 crashes, either by not using a crosswalk, being in the middle of the road after dark or being under the influence, Jones said.
And in 2018, there were 16 pedestrian crashes in unincorporated Cobb with nine fatalities. Police concluded the pedestrian was at fault in 14 of the 16 cases, Jones said.
In addition to pedestrians being distracted, other factors contributing to pedestrian fatalities are the time of day — the GHSA study determined that 75% of pedestrian fatalities in 2017 occurred after dark — as well as a lack of crosswalks. The GHSA found that 72% of 2017’s pedestrian fatalities occurred outside of intersections.
Jones said the three corridors with the highest number of pedestrian-involved incidents include South Cobb Drive, Riverside Parkway and Austell Road.
On these roads, the crosswalks are few and have large distances between them, Jones said. But the county has begun installing pedestrian crossings with light-up beacons on some of these corridors, Jones said, pointing to one recently installed on South Cobb Drive at Church Road and on Riverside Parkway between Interstate 20 and Factory Shoals Road.
Register, Cobb’s police chief, said his department is taking a three-fold approach to addressing pedestrian-involved incidents.
First, officers are continuing to educate drivers and enforce distracted driving laws. Second, police are educating pedestrians on the dangers of distraction. And finally, police work with transportation officials at the county and the state to identify areas with a high number of incidents and discussing ways to address them.
Mike Boyce, chair of the Cobb Commission, said one pedestrian death is too many and said the county is taking measures to address the problem. And Commissioner Lisa Cupid said the data about pedestrian fatalities is troubling.
“Pedestrian safety has been a concern of mine, but having that data (shows) how imperative it is that we take measures to improve the safety of those who are walking to get from point A to point B in our county,” she said.
Cupid pointed to her work to secure more funding for sidewalk projects in the 2016 special 1 percent sales tax program, which collects tax revenue for capital projects, as an effort to help aid in walkability.
But she said the county needs to do more.
“The level of funding that we have for sidewalks in the county still doesn’t match the amount of growth that we have here,” she said. “I think we can do more. And it’s not just having sidewalks, too. It’s also having adequate lighting and ensuring that our intersections are safe.”
Cupid said addressing the issue may require looking at transportation differently.
“We are so dependent on looking at vehicular traffic, I don’t think we’ve stopped to take a look at how easy or how accessible we’re making it for the pedestrians,” she said. “That would change our way of looking at transportation in Cobb, but considering the fatalities and just the desire people have for more walkable communities, I think it’s something we should take a look at, make sure people have more safe pedestrian crossings.”