SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – California is a leader in many ways, but there’s one statistic it shouldn’t be proud to lead: its annual number of fatal hit-and-run vehicle crashes.

There were 2,049 deaths in the U.S. that resulted from hit-and-run crashes, with 337 occurring in California in 2016 — the most recent year with available data, according to a statement from AAA. It’s the highest number the state has ever seen and a 60-percent increase over 2009.

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On a per capita basis, California ranked 7th nationally for hit-and-run deaths.

AAA researchers examined common characteristics of hit-and-run crashes nationwide and found that:

  • Nearly 65 percent of people killed in hit-and-run crashes were pedestrians or bicyclists.
  • Hit-and-run deaths in the U.S. have increased an average of 7.2 percent each year since 2009.
  • Per capita, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida have the highest rate of fatal hit-and-run crashes while New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota have the lowest rates.

“This is a growing traffic safety challenge and trend that is moving in the wrong direction,” said Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Northern California.

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The other two states with over 100 hit-and-run deaths per year, Texas and Florida, had 233 and 206 respectively.

But some California cities saw a decline in these types of fatalities. San Francisco had 20 deaths in 2017, the lowest number since they started tracking this statistic.

To decrease the chances of being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or bicyclist, AAA recommends that drivers should:

  • Be aware: Pedestrians may act unpredictably and can walk into the path of travel at any point.
  • Be cautious: Look out for small children and be alert to areas where there are likely to be more pedestrians. These include school zones, playgrounds, bus stops and intersections.
  • Be patient: When trying to pass a pedestrian or cyclist, give plenty of space and keep them in your line of sight.
  • Be vigilant: Drivers should always yield to pedestrians, even if they walk into the road from an area other than a crosswalk.
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