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Pedestrian death toll in state rises, auto association says

Suffolk County police investigate a motor vehicle crash

Suffolk County police investigate a motor vehicle crash in which a driver struck and killed a pedestrian in Lindenhurst on Jan. 9. Credit: Bryan Lopez

One pedestrian was struck by a motorist every 33 minutes in New York State, with almost 162,000 people killed or injured from 2010 to 2019, AAA Northeast said.

The latest data shows the worrying trend increasing.

The progress that reduced the 2013 high of 16,145 by 18% in 2015 was reversed by 2019, the Garden-City-based membership arm of the national organization said in a statement.

"The grim total was 15,456 in 2019," said spokesman Robert Sinclair.

The problem is particularly severe in Suffolk County because it is both rural and at times exceedingly congested, yet sidewalks are far from universal.

The death toll in Suffolk during the period studied was 400, the highest for any county in the state. It was four people more than in Brooklyn, which had 396 deaths, and 13 more than Queens with 387, the nonprofit said.

Nassau County ranked fourth with 284 deaths, followed by Manhattan at 270, and the Bronx at 227. The next highest county, the seventh worst, was Erie with a deadly total of 107, followed by Monroe with 93 deaths. Westchester was ninth with 83 deaths; Staten Island came 10th at 66.

In a statement, Suffolk police said: "Raw number comparisons are never a fair metric as Suffolk County is the second largest county in New York State with the fourth highest population.

"The county is also home to one of the highest, if not the highest, number of registered vehicles and the county’s residents log among the greatest amount of miles driven per year due to limited mass transportation and overall length of commutes.

"The Suffolk County Police Department’s focus on roadway fatality reduction has been successful in reducing motor vehicle fatalities during the last five years, and reducing pedestrian fatalities has been a component of that strategy."

The statement noted that the department added a crash analyst within the Highway Patrol Bureau who reviews the circumstances of all fatal and serious crashes. Data is also used in an effort to reduce serious crashes, the department said.

The crash analyst will also suggest potential infrastructure improvements to the Department of Public Works or Department of Transportation should those factors contribute to an accident, the statement said.

"Due to the department’s successes in improving traffic safety, Highway Patrol Bureau Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector David Regina was recently asked to join the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee," the statement said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement Friday: "Nassau County has a wide-ranging approach to addressing pedestrian safety utilizing the latest technology, comprehensive traffic studies and community outreach. With accidents involving pedestrians spiking each year in the fall and winter, as it gets darker earlier, and as the pandemic led to open roads and more speeding, there is more to be done."

Spokesmen for New York City had no immediate comment on whether their traffic safety programs were effective or were due for improvements.

The AAA analysis spotlighted the twin hazards of dusk and being a senior.

"The most dangerous time of day was 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with schools letting out and during the evening rush, with 32,947 injuries and deaths," Sinclair said.

"The second deadliest time of day was 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with 31,698 injuries and deaths."

The AAA found the age group most likely to die was made up of people over 70, with 700 killed during the 10 years examined.

The top three "contributing factors" to pedestrian fatalities and injuries were: "driver inattention/distraction," failure to yield right of way, and "pedestrian/bicyclist error/confusion," the study found. Pedestrians is a catchall category that often includes bicyclists.

In addition to calling for more public safety instruction — at every level of education — and public safety announcements, Sinclair said, "State and local governments are encouraged to develop more public traffic safety campaigns to continually remind all road users of the need to exercise safety."

"Everyone must be cautious when they are using the roads and follow all the rules and regulations," said Sinclair, noting that New York City’s Vision Zero traffic safety program is "an example of what we can and should be doing."

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story omitted the response from the Suffolk County Police Department.

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