Pedestrian deaths tie with 2002 for lowest since at least 1931

The District logged the lowest number of traffic-related fatalities since at least the 1920s last year, and tied for the lowest numbers of pedestrians killed on record as well.

Only 19 people died in traffic-related crashes in the city in 2012, besting the previous record set three years ago, according to city statistics. Eight of the cases involved pedestrians, six were vehicle occupants and five rode motorcycles or scooters when killed. Not one was a bicyclist.

Despite two high-profile pedestrian deaths last month, including a 16-year-old killed in a hit-and-run, the number of pedestrians killed was tied with 2002 for the lowest number since the city started keeping such records in 1931.

The numbers are especially low compared with the peak set in 1934, when 135 people died in traffic crashes in the city, 95 of them pedestrians as trolleys and cars proliferated. But the statistics have declined markedly in recent years, dropping to a quarter of the 71 traffic deaths reported in 2001.

"We're moving in the direction we want to go," said District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle.

John Townsend, a spokesman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic motorist club, noted that the city appears to be bucking the national trends, as well. Nationally, vehicle fatalities had been dropping, he said, but preliminary data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicate traffic deaths may have risen last year.

Still, the share of pedestrians getting killed in traffic-related crashes in the District remains high, representing 42 percent of all traffic-related fatalities last year. George Branyan, who coordinates DDOT's pedestrian program, said that ratio is similar to other large cities', noting that more than half of residents are walking, biking or taking transit to their jobs each day in the city. "It's an urbanized area," Branyan said. "That's what happens when you have one million people on the streets each day."

Additionally the drop comes as the city's population grows.

Branyan credits the proliferation of traffic cameras around the city with helping reduce the deaths. The District has 46 speed cameras and 47 red light cameras but plans to add 134 more this year.

"We still have a lot of crashes, but when two cars hit each other at 25 mph, it's a lot different than cars going 45 mph," he said. "It really matters for pedestrians. They don't have air bags and steel safety cages."

Townsend would like the numbers to drop even lower, though. "They can take pride in the fact that the city is becoming a lot safer. We all can," Townsend said. "But still we cannot rest on our laurels."