Walking can be dangerous, particularly in cities with heavy traffic like New York City. However, walking may be getting safer thanks to a new federal focus on pedestrian safety.

Pedestrians account for about 60 percent of traffic deaths in New York City. In 2009, the city saw a record low number of traffic fatalities. A total of 256 deaths was a year-over-year drop of 12 percent from 2008, and a 25-percent drop since 2001. However, at the same time, car accident-related pedestrian fatalities increased to 155 in 2009.

Nationwide, pedestrians account for 14 percent of traffic fatalities and 3 percent of all traffic injuries. A pedestrian is injured in a car crash somewhere in the United States every eight minutes, and a pedestrian is killed once every two hours. Most pedestrian deaths happen in cities.

Pedestrian accident statistics are improving, but not as quickly as accident rates overall. In 2008, a total of 4,378 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, down from 5,228 in 1998, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

At the New York International Auto Show, NHTSA officials announced a new program focusing on pedestrian safety. The group wants to promote new technologies, such as a new Volvo collision warning system. It is designed to detect a pedestrian in front of a car and automatically hit the brakes. A new car rating system will give credit to car companies that employ such technologies.

The NHTSA also is conducting ongoing research on pedestrian safety, and has awarded major safety demonstration projects to cities around the country. The projects include infrastructure improvements such as roundabouts, which slow down cars and reduce the chances of fatal accidents between vehicles or between cars and pedestrians.

The projects also have education and law enforcement components, ticketing more drivers and pedestrians who ignore traffic laws at busy intersections. Meanwhile, the federal Department of Transportation is investing money in bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks in an effort to improve safety.

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