Twenty people were hit and killed by drivers last year in Maine, spread over 10 of the state’s 16 counties. Another 225 pedestrians were injured, and who knows how many were kept from walking or biking somewhere because it was simply too difficult or dangerous.

The straight fact of the matter is that in many cases, Maine’s roads are not safe for people outside of automobiles. More often than not, our roads are built to get cars from end to the other as fast as possible, putting everyone else who wants to use them at risk.

It took a long time for our transportation system to look like it does and it will take some time to change it. But that’s what we should do, one project at a time, until our infrastructure matches the way people want to use it now.


The high level of pedestrian deaths in Maine is part of a national trend. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, more than 7,500 pedestrians were hit and killed by drivers in the U.S. in 2022, the highest number since 1981.

Nationwide, pedestrian fatalities have been trending upward since about 2009, after falling steadily since the early ’80s. Notably, nearly all of the increase in deaths can be attributed to fatalities occurring when it is dark, between sunset and sunrise. Also, the same trend cannot be seen in other rich countries.


An investigation by the New York Times found a number of contributing factors, first among them the smartphone. After that, car dashboards are now like computers, with touchscreens that are just as distracting as our phones. Americans spend more time on their phones while driving — three times as much as British drivers, according to one study, something researchers say may be connected to the popularity of automatic transmissions here.

At the same time, millions of Americans have been moving to the Sun Belt, a part of the country developed specifically for car transportation. There and across the country, a lot of people, particularly those earning lower incomes, have moved from more urban areas to growing suburbs, where arterial roads with multiple lanes are popular.

Those type of roads are everywhere now, with more people living in and around them. A lot of those people don’t have vehicles, so they are forced to walk to work and on errands. Think of Western Avenue in Augusta, Broadway in Bangor, or Forest Avenue in Portland, all places where drivers feel safe going fast, particularly at night when there are few other cars around.

It’s a dangerous recipe: more pedestrians coming onto roads built for speed, made worse by darkness and distraction.

The trend has been met with calls for drivers to put the phone away, or for pedestrians to wear bright colors and be more aware of their surroundings.

And while every individual who uses the road for one thing or the other could be more careful — particularly if you’re the one behind the wheel of a two-ton truck — policy needs to focus more on changing infrastructure than changing individual habits.



Existing road design makes it easy for people to go to fast. Streets have been built solely for vehicles for so long that it’s easy for drivers to forget that people walk and bike on them as well.

Designs that implement traffic calming measures help change that perception, and make our public infrastructure useful for more people, in more ways. Bright, wide sidewalks and crosswalks do too, as do safe bike lanes.

Those measures and others that make our roads safer for pedestrians should be as much a part of the engineering process as painting yellow lines down the center. They should automatically be part of projects where they make sense — in town centers, near any significant population of residents or businesses, even along well-used rural roads.

People who have to walk or bike should not be forced to put their lives on the line. People who want to get around that way should be able to feel as secure as those in cars. One project at a time, we can get there.

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