WalkBoston Report Reveals Fatal Pedestrian Crashes Disproportionately Impact Older Adults

A report released by WalkBoston, a Massachusetts pedestrian advocacy organization and key partner for the Mass. Healthy Aging Collaborative, provides new insights evaluating where and how fatal pedestrian crashes are happening across the state, and what these patterns tell us about creating safe roads for all. Among other findings, the report shows that over half (40 of 75) of the deaths happened in just 12 municipalities. 

The report, Fatal Pedestrian Crashes in MA (2021), reviews fatal pedestrian crash data from 2021 released on the MassDOT IMPACT Crash Portal and Fatal Crash Information Dashboard. The locations were then cross-referenced in the MassDOT Road Inventory Tool to determine the road jurisdiction and speed limit. Google Street View was used to find additional local context.

“The data sadly confirm that crashes are happening throughout the Commonwealth, with the same municipalities emerging again and again as higher risk,” said Stacey Beuttell, Executive Director of WalkBoston. “Every life lost is tragic, but the data also gives us confidence that by implementing proven road safety improvements and lowering speed limits, it is absolutely possible to reduce or even eliminate pedestrian deaths in Massachusetts.”

Among the 47 Massachusetts cities and towns that had a fatal pedestrian crash in 2021, more than half happened in Springfield (9), Boston (9), Lowell and Brockton (3/each), and Dedham, Framingham, Lawrence, New Bedford, Oxford, Saugus, Weymouth, Yarmouth (2/each).

35 communities had one fatal crash: Bourne, Braintree, Bridgewater, Brookline, Charlton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Harwich, Leominster, Lynn, Marlborough, Marshfield, Mashpee, Medford, Methuen, Monson, Newburyport, Palmer, Peabody, Provincetown, Quincy, Raynham, Salisbury, Shelburne Falls, Somerville, Sterling, Taunton, Walpole, Waltham, West Springfield, Westfield, and Worcester.

This summary finds that improving road design and safety would particularly benefit the health, safety, and wellbeing of Massachusetts’ growing older adult population. Adults over the age of 65 were disproportionate pedestrian crash victims, making up 36 percent of those killed while representing only 17 percent of the population.

“If we truly want to help older adults age in the community, we need to look at this data as an opportunity to create safer streets not just for older adults but everyone,” said James Fuccione, Senior Director of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative (MHAC). “We are all aging, and we should all want communities that support our ability to be active and engaged throughout our lives. And investing in age-friendly designs that support just that should be the norm – MassDOT’s Complete Streets and Shared Streets and Spaces programs are a great example.”

Over half of Massachusetts’ fatal pedestrian crashes (50.67%) occurred on streets with 30-35 MPH speed limits. Many local roads with 30-35 MPH speed limits are prime for speeding and hostile to people walking or in wheelchairs, yet these are also the places where more people are walking. It reinforces the need for comprehensive speed management to prevent serious injuries and fatalities, moving away from relying solely on the outdated “85th percentile” theory and instead setting target speeds that reflect the way the community has developed. MassDOT just released updated guidance on safe speeds and resources to implement speed management in communities across Massachusetts.

Road safety upgrades can be done quickly and without requiring major capital investment. Recent examples include a traffic circle made out of cones in Arlington – no construction required – that dropped the number of people speeding by 65 percent. In Salem, narrowing a road via new bike lanes encouraged safer driving behaviors and reduced speeding (more than 40 mph) in a school zone by 61 percent.

While fatal crashes for people walking were down in 2020 in MA (bucking a national trend of rising fatal crashes despite fewer people driving that year), it appears in 2021 that fatal pedestrian crashes in Massachusetts returned to a level similar to what we’ve seen every year since 2015. It’s time to reverse this trend. Our state and local leaders must design our streets to be safe for people walking today.