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The total number of people dying in traffic accidents in Vermont has decreased significantly over the past few years, but the news isn’t nearly so good for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Despite recent efforts by the state to lower the number of accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians, the numbers have either stayed about the same or significantly worsened in recent years. For pedestrians, the number of fatalities has remained relatively steady, with six pedestrians dying in crashes in 2013 and five in both 2014 and 2015. The number of incapacitating injuries to pedestrians involved in crashes has dropped, from 26 in 2013 to 17 in 2015.

Sharp Increase in Vermont Bicycle Fatalities

For cyclists, the numbers have worsened significantly, causing some alarm in a state filled with beautiful, scenic byways that are perfect for bike riding. In 2011 through 2014, the state experienced no fatalities among cyclists involved in crashes. In 2015, however, that number jumped to four. Incapacitating injuries to cyclists involved in crashes jumped from four in 2014 to 12 in 2015.

And while the sum of crashes involving pedestrians has dropped — from 147 in 2013 to 126 in 2015 — total crashes involving bicyclists jumped from 77 to 97 between 2014 and 2015.

Last year, the sudden spike in bicycle fatalities put the cycling community on edge, raising concerns about cars and bikes safely co-existing on Vermont’s roads. In May, an experienced cyclist and a motorist died in a crash on Vermont 116. Just the month before, another cyclist died after being hit by an individual who was allegedly driving drunk.

Two of the cyclists’ deaths were caused by drivers who were intoxicated at the time and another was due to excessive driver speed. In viewing the Maps at the bottom of the page, you can imagine how difficult it is for drivers to spot cyclists on the roadways near dusk and dawn.

Apart from last years 4 fatalities, dating back to 2005 there had only been 1 cyclist fatality in Vermont. This sharp increase in bicycle fatalities moved Vermont from the safest state in the country to ride a bicycle, to the most dangerous in 1 year!

Are Walking and Cycling Especially Dangerous?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that in 2013, pedestrians were among a small number of transportation categories that saw an increase in the number of fatalities. Nationwide that year, traffic accidents killed 4,735 pedestrians, a number the administration is working to reduce by raising awareness.

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, meanwhile, notes that pedestrians account for 14 percent of all traffic deaths but only about 11 percent of total trips. While walking is a healthy activity for millions of people, the traffic accident data reveal the risks that come along with walking on streets clogged with motor vehicles. Pedestrian fatalities have fallen by more than 3 percent since 2001, but the reason is unclear: Experts speculate that the drop could be due to fewer people walking or to improvements in awareness and safety measures.

Bicycle fatalities account for about 2 percent of all traffic deaths, yet bicycle trips make up only about 1 percent of the total trips in the United States annually.

What is the State of Vermont Doing to Reduce Injuries and Deaths?

In 2014, the Vermont Agency of Transportation noted that it is testing a traffic-control system known as the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon Crosswalk. The system is intended to regulate the flow of traffic and to help pedestrians cross the street safely.

The first system, installed in Colchester, proved effective and safer than having no system in place, the agency reported. Motorists complied with yielding laws an average of 18-percent more often, and the number of cars that slowed down as they approached the crosswalk increased by more than 80 percent. The agency noted that another study would be performed to determine if the system would provide benefits in the long term, and additional systems may be installed in areas with large numbers of pedestrians and intersections or crosswalks with no signals.

In addition, some of the state’s municipalities are exploring a “complete streets” initiative intended to improve safety when vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians share the same roads. The initiative involves configuring city streets into “complete streets corridors” — for instance, moving from four-lane roads to two-lane roads with bike lanes on each side and a turn lane in the center. Local officials have expressed concerns that the initiative actually could make roads less safe, following a trial run in which pedestrians and bicyclists reportedly engaged in unsafe behaviors such as riding the wrong way in bike lanes and using bike lanes for walking.

Staying Safe on the Roads

Although local and state government officials no doubt will continue to explore ways to reduce crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists, individuals also should take steps to protect themselves and safely share the roads.

Cyclists should always ride in the direction of traffic and obey all traffic laws and signs. In addition, they should:

Pedestrians also should wear brightly colored and reflective clothing, and they should carry a flashlight when walking at night. They should stay away from parked cars and other obstacles when crossing the street and cross only in well-lighted areas at night. They should always be watchful and aware of potentially dangerous situations.

Motorists should always watch out for pedestrians and cyclists and should drive at or below the posted speed limit. They should stay alert, give wide berth to bicyclists and pedestrians, and be ready to react to unexpected situations.

No one should walk, cycle or drive on Vermont roadways when under the influence of alcohol.

Maps of Accidents

Approximate area of fatality on VT-30 – Pawlet

Kelly Boe DUI Fatality – Weybridge

CVU Student/Cyclist Crash – Hinesburg

Kenneth Najarian DUI Fatality – Ferrisburgh