Pedestrian deaths taking a steeper toll in Richmond County

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 3:50 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Richmond County is seeing a high number of pedestrian deaths this year alone.

2020 was our highest year, but we’re on track to surpass that, even though the deaths seem to come in peaks in valleys, like two mid-October weekends that each had two fatalities.

Of 54 pedestrian deaths from 2018 to 2023, we’ve learned that 60% of those deaths happened in the same ZIP code, 30906.

“Our averages for the number of incidents involving either bicycle or pedestrian are well below the state average for a county of our size,” said John Ussery, Assistant Director of Traffic Engineering for Augusta-Richmond County.

Three hotspot thoroughfares are Gordon Highway, Mike Padgett Highway and Peach Orchard Road.

“We try to identify the pedestrian hotspot where there’s a large volume of people and we focus on those first depending on the money that we have,” said Ussery.

One of those was the scene of Augusta’s latest fatal pedestrian accident.

Before dawn Monday, a pedestrian was struck at Mike Padgett Highway and Phinizy Road. The pedestrian was walking south lane when he was hit by a southbound vehicle. His name hasn’t been released yet.

We asked Ussery in traffic engineering if Augusta is a pedestrian-friendly city.

“Overall, pedestrians are safe and bicyclists are safe utilizing our road system,” he said.

Still, the numbers might make you question that – and it’s not just a problem here.

“There are some older parts of town that don’t have a lot of infrastructure, and we definitely need to address those eventually. But I think the parts of Richmond County that most people would want to go to are pedestrian friendly. And we’re working to improve those all the time,” said Ussery.

According to a national report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, more than 7,500 people walking were struck and killed by automobiles in 2022, the highest number since 1981. The spike was attributed in part to an increase in larger vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks on the road.

Behind these numbers are families left behind to deal with the unbearable pain.

“The world don’t know a bond between a brother and a sister like me and my brother were,” said Shannon Rickerson, Anthony Smith’s sister.

Anthony was hit and killed in early October on Gordon Highway.

And the accidents may increase as the weather gets colder.

A new study released Monday found every state outside of Iowa has seen an increase in the percentage of fatal crashes involving pedestrians in the winter months in recent years.

The study found Georgia ranks No. 6 in the increase of pedestrian deaths during winter, seeing a 4.3% jump.

The design of the vehicles may play a factor, too.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday that pickups, SUVs and vans with a hood height greater than 40 inches are about 45% more likely to cause fatalities in pedestrian crashes than cars and other vehicles with a hood height of 30 inches or less and a sloping profile.

But among vehicles with hood heights between 30 and 40 inches, a blunt, or more vertical, front end increases the risk to pedestrians.