Researchers create unique model for assessing pedestrian risk of motor vehicle accidents

Public health campaigns have recently been promoting walking among adults and children due in particular to the rise of diabetes and obesity in the United States. However, according to a new University of Colorado Denver study, Pedestrian motor vehicle (PMV) collisions and associated environmental characteristics in Denver, Colo., walking can be a hazardous undertaking. Pedestrians are up to nine times as likely as those traveling in cars to be killed per kilometer traveled. Children and older adults as well as Hispanics and African Americans are disproportionately affected by pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions. CU Denver researchers asked two main questions about pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions within the City and County of Denver: What are the spatial patterns of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions? What is the relationship between pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and environmental characteristics by census tract?

According to the study by Anne K. Sebert Kuhlmann, PhD, CU Denver Health and Behavioral Sciences Program; John Brett, PhD, associate professor of Anthropology; Deborah Thomas, associate professor of Geography; and Stephan R. Sain, Department of Mathematics, a combination of physical characteristics and social conditions can increase the risk of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions in an area.

“Public health is increasingly learning how the built environment impacts healthy behaviors,” said Sebert Kuhlmann. “As more people begin to walk instead of drive there may be increased risk of accidents involving pedestrians and automobiles. In this study, we used publicly available data from local and state agencies to develop measures on how social and environmental factors affect pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions.”

In the cross-sectional study, which integrated secondary motor vehicle collision data from Denver over a four-year period (Jan. 1, 2000-Dec. 31, 2003), the CU Denver researchers examined patterns of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions in Denver and three associated environmental characteristics: data on liquor license outlets—the number and type of liquor license outlets in an area have been associated with the number of drinking drivers and the number of drinking pedestrians, land use (environment effects physical activity like walking to work), and sociodemographic characteristics like population density which is associated with frequency of walking and pedestrian injuries.

Key findings included:
• The built environment in the form of transportation infrastructure, population density, and liquor store locations has an important effect on health and healthy activities like walking.
• The study presents a methodology for integrating various publicly available datasets within a geographic information system (GIS) to provide a comprehensive picture of pedestrian safety in an area.
• Municipalities can use this methodology with publicly available data 1) to identify locations with elevated levels of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions for targeted interventions, and 2) to monitor and respond to changes in the built environment that may have a negative impact on pedestrian safety.
The three environmental characteristics–walking to work, population density and liquor license outlet density–were found to be associated with the density of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions.

Results showed that the majority of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions take place downtown, in the revitalized Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood and in nearby neighborhoods bordering major arterial streets.

Researchers hope that these results will have implications in Denver and other cities for future research directions, public policy to enhance pedestrian safety, public health programs aimed at decreasing unintentional injury from pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and promoting walking as a routine physical activity and a means to combat obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The study was published in the September 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The University of Colorado Denver is located in Denver on the Downtown Campus and on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colo. CU Denver offers more than 120 degrees and programs in 13 schools and colleges and serves more than 28,000 students. For more information, visit the CU Denver Newsroom.

Contact: Caitlin Jenney, 303.315.6376, [email protected]

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