In Pittston, an 83-year-old volunteer firefighter died Nov. 23 while crossing the road to get to his mailbox. In Solon on Nov. 13, a 31-year-old Norridgewock man was killed while walking on Ferry Street, which is also U.S. Route 201A.

Those deaths come as the number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle accidents is the highest it’s been in Maine in at least a decade, and police say they are working on investigating what might be behind the high number of fatalities.

“We don’t have any specific reason yet about why these are happening,” said Lt. Bruce Scott, of the Maine State Police Traffic and Safety Division. Scott said he is also looking into the reasons behind a 26-year high this year in the number of motorcycle fatalities.

To date this year, 16 people in Maine have died in pedestrian accidents, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. There were 13 accidents in each 2008 and 2009, the second-highest number of fatalities before this year. Data from before 2005 was unavailable, the department said.

Police and experts say there’s no clear answer to what’s behind the increase in pedestrian fatalities, but that the nice weather stretching into fewer hours of daylight could be part of the reason for three recent fatalities within the last two weeks. Visibility is the most common cause of pedestrian accidents, according to Scott.

“There are some theories out there as to why that might be happening, but most of it seems to be weather-related,” Scott said. “They’re saying that we just had a better season. It’s been nicer; it’s been warmer longer; less rain, and so there were more motorcyclists out there traveling. So I’m wondering about this pedestrian thing if it could be similar, if there’s more out there because it’s been nicer.”

Brian Allenby, communications director at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, also said that pedestrian accidents tend to be reported more often in the fall and the winter, when people are out walking while it is getting dark earlier in the day. A majority of pedestrian fatalities are reported between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., he said.

“That being said, there are those that are reported at 7 a.m. and it’s sunny,” Allenby said. “So it’s certainly a mixed bag.”

Pedestrians and motorists can both play a role in preventing pedestrian accidents, according to Allenby and Scott, including by wearing reflective clothing and paying attention to the road.

In addition, many pedestrian accidents are reported in areas where there is no shoulder or sidewalk on the road or poorly lit areas, Allenby said.

Municipalities can do well to make sure they have the proper pedestrian infrastructure in place to ensure safety — including working streetlights, crosswalks and sidewalks, he said.

The simplest and perhaps most obvious solution to pedestrian accidents is to make sure pedestrians are visible to motor vehicles, he said. “The unfortunate reality of many of the fatalities we do see is that the folks are wearing dark clothing, nothing reflective, no lights and are crossing not in a marked crosswalk or an area where a motorist might expect somebody to be crossing,” Allenby said. “The single biggest thing we recommend for pedestrians this time of year is to make sure you’re visible — have reflective clothing on and ideally, some sort of active illumination, a blinking red light, a head light, just something that’s going to tell a car that there’s a person there.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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