WASHINGTON – Arizona had the fifth-highest fatal hit-and-run rate among states in 2016, a year that saw the most hit-and-runs fatalities nationwide, according to a new report by the AAA.
The report found that pedestrians and cyclists are the two most likely victims of hit-and-run accidents, accounting for 19.5 percent of all pedestrian fatalities between 2006 and 2016, compared to only 1 percent of vehicle driver deaths coming from hit-and-run crashes.
“Drivers are much more likely to leave the scene of a crash in which pedestrians or a cyclist is killed,” said Michelle Donati-Grayman, the media relations lead for AAA Arizona.
That may be because “if there is a crash in which someone in another vehicle is critically injured or killed, that typically is going to mean that the vehicle that driver is in is also going to be damaged to the point where it might not be drivable off the scene,” she said.
Experts say they are seeing the same pattern in Arizona, which they say could simply be the result of more pedestrians and cyclists than in years past.
With “the new health revolution people are getting out and going to walk more,” said Shaun Kildare, the director of research at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The report said Arizona’s 55 hit-and-run deaths in 2016 worked out to a rate of 0.778 deaths per 100,000 residents. New Mexico was highest with a rate of 0.845 while Nevada was just a hair ahead of Arizona, in fourth place with a rate of 0.780 deaths per 100,000.
Alberto Gutier, the director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, attributed the high rate to the growth that the state has seen in recent years.
“In the last six, seven years Arizona has increased by almost 800,000 more drivers, the population is now 7 million,” Gutier said. “When I moved to Arizona 50 years ago, we had 1.2 million people.”
“When you have that much people coming here they bring their bad habits,” he said, “but they also bring that congestion.”
Kildare said mandating safety technology for cars, like automatic emergency breaking and lane-departure warnings, would provide a safety net so drivers are less likely to hit a pedestrian or cyclist.
“We don’t think there’s a cure for guilty drivers leaving the scene,” he said, so the solution lies in preventing the crash.
But Gutier said enforcement measures can go a long way, both to educate drivers and prevent them from fleeing the scene of a crash.
“You get in an accident and you see the cops on the corner, you’re less likely to drive away,” he said.
Donati-Grayman said preventive measures should focus on educating drivers on safe driving.
“We have various campaigns that we launch to our membership, and to the general public on ways to stay safe as a driver, as well as ways to stay safe as a pedestrian,” she said. “Part of our mission is to advocate for the safety and security of the traveling public and that’s something we are committed to doing year-round.”
Gutier said he will be meeting Monday with representatives from AAA to put together a campaign to educate drivers on how to avoid hit-and-runs.
But Donati-Grayman said at the end of the day it is up to drivers to drive responsibly.
“The onus is really on the driver because if you are paying attention, if you are aware, if you are cautious, if you are vigilant, you can really do a lot to reduce your chances of being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or cyclist,” she said.