MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – At some point in the day, everyone is a pedestrian. Whether you walk your child to school or walk from your vehicle’s parking lot to the office, each of us walks where vehicles travel.

But, according to the West Virginia Department of Transportation, pedestrian fatalities remain high. In 2019, 6,205 pedestrians died nationwide. In West Virginia, 31 pedestrians were killed by drivers in 2019. This is why the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) is joining with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in observing national Pedestrian Safety Month all of October.

Aimee Cantrell

“We want to just try to curb that trend as quickly as possible so that we have fewer fatalities regarding pedestrians and all road users in West Virginia,” said Aimee Cantrell, a public information specialist with the GHSP.

Part of the reason we’re seeing increased fatalities among pedestrians could very well be because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cantrell said.

“We’ve encouraged people to get outside, we’ve encouraged people to be more active, so we have seen an increase in pedestrian use of roads as well as bicycles and motorcyclists.”

One other issue the GHSP is noticing, Cantrell said, is there is a lot of distraction “on the part of both pedestrians and drivers”.

Distracted drivers, in general, often cause crashes, so raising awareness about it is a big part of the GHSP’s mission during Pedestrian Safety Month and all other months of the year.

Pedestrian stands at a crosswalk on University Ave. in Morgantown

With pedestrian fatalities increasing, be it because of distractions or more people walking on the road, Cantrell said it’s time to get back to basics.

“Let’s go back to the basics, right,” she said. “So first and foremost, pedestrians, don’t have your earbuds in. Don’t be looking at your phone — head up and be aware of your surroundings. And for motorists, we will remind them to always drive focused, which means don’t have your phone in your hand or try to sneak a look at it while you’re driving down the road.”

Driving the speed limit and avoiding driving impaired are also great ways for drivers to improve pedestrian and roadway safety, Cantrell added.

Pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk to cross Willey Street in Morgantown

Pedestrians can further do their part, she said, by remembering to be “visible”.

“That means your clothing, that means if you are going to be a pedestrian during the evening or night hours, always use a flashlight or reflective material,” Cantrell said. “Anything that pedestrians can do to be more visible is always a help because, you know, if someone is wearing dark clothing and they’re walking out on sidewalks across the street, or in more rural areas that may not have a sidewalk, that puts them at an increased risk of being struck by the driver of a vehicle just because they aren’t seen. So, we always want pedestrians to be as visible as possible when they’re walking along the road.”

For more information from the GHSP about pedestrian safety, you can read more here.