Despite a spike in the number of pedestrians and cyclists struck by vehicles on Richmond County roads, a recent report shows that numbers nationwide have declined drastically over the past 30 years. Georgia and South Carolina, however, rank among the worst in the country for pedestrian and cycling fatality rates.
Last week, the Alliance for Biking & Walking released its biennial report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after collecting and analyzing data from all 50 states on a multitude of walking- and cycling-related studies, some of which include the amount of crash fatalities per 10,000 walkers and cyclists in a given state.
The report found that about 11.4 percent of trips taken nationwide are by bicycle or foot. Nearly 15 percent of roadway fatality victims, however, are pedestrians and cyclists.
In 2011, about 14.2 pedestrian fatalities were reported per one million in population, which is down from 35.5 per one million in 1980. In the same time span, the fatality rate for cyclists was cut in half to about 2.2 fatalities per million.
Vermont reports the fewest pedestrian fatalities of all states with 2.2 fatalities per 10,000 walking commuters. Georgia ranks No. 44 and South Carolina ranks No. 47 with 23.1 and 24.6 per 10,000, respectively.
So far this year, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has reported nine traffic fatalities. Four of the incidents involved pedestrian-versus-vehicle collisions. In 2013, police responded to 26 fatal traffic accidents, eight of which involved pedestrians.
Earlier this month, three teens and an Augusta man were struck by vehicles on Richmond County roads. The man and two of the teens died as a result of their injuries. The third teen remains hospitalized..
“We’ve seen people in dark clothing attempting to cross roadways and intersections in low-light times of the day,” Sgt. Shane McDaniel said. “They’re not using the crosswalks. They’re not yielding to traffic. Contrary to what some people might think, there are some laws that pedestrians have to abide by.”
In an effort to combat the recent trend, McDaniel said, the sheriff’s office will begin stopping pedestrians who fail to use the crosswalk on main thoroughfares such as Gordon Highway, Walton Way and Wheeler and Wrightsboro roads.
“We’re actually going to go out and educate the public and explain to them exactly what they’re doing wrong,” he said.
McDaniel said he has observed more accidents that are the result of misjudgment on the behalf of the pedestrians, not the motorist.
One exception, he continued, is the death of 8-year-old Jaidyn Williams, who was struck and killed while attempting to board a school bus on Belair Road. The driver, Scott William Hancock, 20, of Augusta, has been charged with reckless driving, passing a school bus while loading, serious injury by vehicle and homicide by vehicle.
Of the nine fatalities throughout the county, all but one have been handled by the department’s south precinct. McDaniel speculated that this could mean motorists use more caution when traveling in northern areas of the county because of a more concentrated group of cyclists and pedestrians.
“They’re more apt to see that downtown, so the drivers are more cautious,” he said. “Also, the cyclist(s) and the people walking and jogging are more apt to pay attention as well.”
But pedestrians aren’t all that police need worry about. According to the report, Georgia ranked No. 43 with 18.3 fatalities per 10,000 cyclists, and South Carolina ranked No. 45 with 21.2. Montana topped the list for fewest cycling fatalities with just one per every 10,000 cycling commuters.
Though there have been no fatal cycling-related accidents this year, 15-year-old Timothy Dunn was seriously injured when he rode his bike into oncoming traffic in the 900 block of Laney-Walker Boulevard on April 13. He was taken to Georgia Regents Medical Center and is listed in critical condition, McDaniel said.
In 2013, Dennis Skillman, 43, and Robert Donald Holden Jr., 33, were killed when they were struck by vehicles less than 10 days apart from each other.
Drew Jordan, the manager of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse in Augusta, said seeing those numbers prompt him to take extra precautions before embarking on his weekly rides. He said he straps flashing lights on his bike and dons a brightly-colored jersey before leaving the shop.
“Whenever I’m riding, I would say that I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on around me,” he said. “I, unfortunately, see a lot of people riding around with headphones on and I see that kind of as an issue because you can tell a lot about what’s going on just with your ears.”
Jim Ellington, a member of cycling advocacy group Wheel Movement CSRA, said there is a certain portion of cyclists in the area who are considered “cyclists by necessity.” Those who fall into this category use bicycles as their main mode of transportation, but may not be as keen on laws pertaining to cycling in Georgia, ultimately putting them at risk.
“From time to time I’ll see people out there who are dressed in very dark clothing at night,” Ellington said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense. You need to dress in high-visibility colors.”
In an attempt to lower cycling fatality rates throughout the area, Ellington said, Wheel Movement CSRA will sponsor classes throughout the year in each of the surrounding counties to teach novice cyclists how to navigate high-traffic areas. The group is also working to create a video public service announcement to educate cyclists and motorists on rules of the road.
“We’re trying to make cycling as safe as we can, not just for the cyclist, but for the motorists out there as well,” he said. “Nobody wants to be in a situation where you’ve hit someone in your motor vehicle.”