Alarming Rise in Pedestrian Traffic Deaths

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

A report released on March 30, 2017 by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic jumped 11 percent in 2016, to nearly 6,000.

This is the biggest increase in fatalities ever in a single year and is the highest number of deaths in more than two decades, National Public Radio (NPR) reports. “It is alarming,” GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins says.

Increased Vehicle Safety Has Not Reduced Deaths

“There’s been an assumption that, because of increased safety of vehicles as we move toward semi-autonomous vehicles, that traffic deaths were going to go down,” Adkins says. “We’re seeing just the opposite, unfortunately, with a particular spike as it relates to pedestrians and cyclists.”

The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman have decades of experience in representing those injured in traffic accidents.

The National Safety Council recently reported that traffic deaths overall went up six percent nationwide in 2016. Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the council, says the group expected pedestrian deaths to be part of the overall spike in deaths, but safety experts were surprised that the rise in pedestrian deaths so far outpaced other traffic-related fatalities.

Vogel sees a “perfect storm” of factors behind the increase. A stronger economy and low gas prices means more cars are on the road and people are driving more miles. But Vogel says there are other factors at play. Drivers and pedestrians are often distracted by their phones. Melody Geraci, deputy executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago safety advocacy group, says distractions are the number three cause of pedestrian fatalities, behind speeding and failure to yield, according to NPR.

Distractions and Alcohol Increase Risk to Pedestrians

Distracted driving is a well-documented cause of crashes, but a growing number of distracted pedestrian are injured because they are oblivious to traffic around them. Often, injured pedestrians had been distracted by cellphones. Pedestrians wearing headphones might not be aware of sounds that could alert them to dangers.

Vehicle speed remains a critical problem in pedestrian fatalities. “If a pedestrian is struck at 20 miles an hour, they have a 10 percent chance of dying. If they are struck at 40 miles an hour, they have an 80 percent chance of dying,” Geraci says.

New York City lowered the speed limit on most streets to 25 mph. Other cities are also considering lowering speeds, NPR reports. Researchers are analyzing the data to see if there are other ways to make streets safer for those traveling on foot. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association report, 74 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen at night, and 72 percent of those killed were not crossing at intersections.

Alcohol is a significant factor in many pedestrian injuries and deaths. According to the GHSA report, 15 percent of pedestrians killed annually are hit by a drunk driver. Thirty-four percent of pedestrians killed are legally drunk themselves, with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) above the .08 threshold for drunk driving. At this blood-alcohol level, reflexes and judgment are impaired and it is dangerous for a person to operate a motor vehicle. But walking when impaired is also dangerous, especially at night.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that as BAC increases, so does the risk for harm. “Even small increases in BAC can decrease coordination, make a person feel sick, and cloud judgment. This can lead to injury from falls or car crashes, leave one vulnerable to sexual assault or other acts of violence.” A drunk pedestrian might attempt to cross a street in an unsafe place, not recognizing the dangers. There might not be enough light for oncoming cars to see the walker or there might not be enough time for the pedestrian to safely make it across the road. A pedestrian whose coordination or balance is impaired by alcohol might stumble into the path of an oncoming car.

Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Council says, “We’ve done a good job in highway safety in telling people that when you go out to the bar and you’re drunk, don’t get behind the wheel.” But, Adkins notes that people who have been drinking should “really be careful about walking, particularly if you’re walking at night. . .You’re not gonna have good judgment. . . don’t walk home at night when you’re hammered.”

Safety advocates say lower speed limits, better road design, and more sidewalks can help reduce fatalities. New vehicle technologies that alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians can also help but many drivers do not understand the technology and they disable it.

Legal Help for Pedestrians Injured in Traffic Accidents

If you are a pedestrian who was injured in a traffic accident or a family member was killed in a pedestrian accident, the attorneys at Parker Waichman can help you seek compensation. For a free, no obligation case evaluation contact Parker Waichman by filling out the contact form or by calling 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).