As Maine heads into the most dangerous time of the year for pedestrians on roads, the number of pedestrians struck and killed by vehicles is already poised to be the highest in more than 10 years.

Patrick Adams, manager of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety program, said 18 pedestrians have died after being struck by a vehicle so far this year. That number is almost certain to increase to 20 once Portland and Augusta police have completed investigations into two recent fatal accidents involving pedestrians. Two bicyclists have also been killed this year, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

Portland police on Nov. 14 discovered the body of 57-year-old Edward Blumenthal of Portland lying in bushes about 15 feet off outer Congress Street. An autopsy showed that Blumenthal, who had been missing for two months, was struck by a large vehicle whose driver did not stop to report the accident. Police are still searching for the driver.

On Saturday night, 81-year-old Emile Morin of Augusta was hit and killed by a car while crossing Northern Avenue, Augusta police said. Morin was leaving a church supper and walking in a crosswalk when the car driven by 55-year-old Andrew Bilodeau of Augusta struck him. Augusta police said the cause remains under investigation.

Adams said MDOT converted to a new online reporting system for pedestrian fatalities in 2003. Before that, such accidents were recorded on paper and the state was required to validate each crash. The all-time record of 30 pedestrian fatalities was recorded in 1997, and there were 27 reported in 1999, Adams said.

From 2006 to 2014, the number of pedestrians fatalities hovered around nine to 11 each year. But there were 19 in 2015 and 17 last year.

And this time of year sees more pedestrians struck by vehicles, Adams said.

“November and December are the worst months,” he said, noting that in 2015 and 2016, eight pedestrians were killed each year in those months. “Sixty five percent of all our pedestrian fatalities occur under low light conditions. That’s when people are getting hit. The drivers can’t see the pedestrians.”

Adams said turning the clocks back an hour, which occurred Nov. 5, could be a contributing factor. Combined with mild weather through much of autumn and more people walking for exercise, more pedestrians are on the road around sunset, he said. It can be difficult for drivers to see pedestrians if they’re wearing dark clothing with no reflective outwear.

Distracted driving is another factor, especially during the holidays, Adams said. Impaired drivers and pedestrians are also factors.

“There’s no one thing we can say is causing these fatalities or a silver bullet that we can point to,” Adams said. The pedestrian fatality figures do not include bicyclists, which are recorded under a different category.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, agrees with Adams.

“There is no common thread or factor to these fatalities,” McCausland said. In many accidents, pedestrians are as much at fault as drivers, he said.

“It’s twofold,” he said. “Pedestrians need to watch out for cars even if they are in a crosswalk and motorists need to watch out for pedestrians.”

McCausland said pedestrians should never assume a driver will see them. They should carry a flashlight when walking after dark and wear reflective clothing whenever possible.

Adams said the MDOT has identified 21 Maine communities that have experienced the highest number of pedestrian/motor vehicle accidents and the state has begun distributing reflective strips to police departments in those towns, which officers give to pedestrians and bicyclists at no charge.

The communities include Portland, Biddeford, Saco, Westbrook, South Portland, Brunswick, Bath, Augusta, Camden, Rockland and Waterville. Adams said the strips can be placed on dog leashes, backpacks and shoes.

“We are really focused on changing behaviors to make our roads safer,” he said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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