To Walk or Not to Walk: Why Are Pedestrian Accidents on the Rise?
More Americans are incorporating walking into their daily routines, whether it’s tracking steps on a Fitbit or walking to the train rather than driving. Generally, this leads to healthier bodies and a healthier environment. At the same time, however, it’s putting us at risk of being hit by a car or other vehicle. And in the United States, that particular problem is getting worse.
In 2016, the number of pedestrian-related traffic deaths increased by 11% to 6,000 fatalities, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. This marks the deadliest year for walkers and bicyclists in 20 years. In fact, pedestrians now account for the largest proportion of traffic fatalities in 25 years, with a 4% increase in pedestrian deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths since 2015.
In New Jersey, the picture looks equally as bad. In 2017, 180 New Jersey residents died in vehicle-related crashes, representing 27% of all motor vehicle crashes. It was the highest number of pedestrian deaths recorded by the state Division of Highway Safety in 24 years (NJ.com).
Reasons for Increased Pedestrian Deaths
You’ve heard the bad news – walkers and bicyclists’ lives are more in danger than ever before as they simply try to get where they are going each day. But as vehicle and road safety continues to improve, why are the fatality numbers still rising? Well, as with many of today’s traffic problems, the answer is multi-faceted.
- Distracted Driving. Drivers are faced with a growing number of distractions as they step into their cars. Between texting, talking on the phone, managing navigation systems, and selecting music, there are many ways drivers avoid maintaining a full focus on the road. From 2005 to 2010, the national number of pedestrians struck and killed by distracted drivers increased by almost 50% (Science Daily). Since 2010, our reliance on smartphones and other devices has only increased. When distracted, it is much easier for drivers to not see a pedestrian in the crosswalk until it is too late, or even to veer off the road and hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk.
- Impaired Driving. According to NPR, alcohol is a significant contributing factor in pedestrian fatalities. A recent Governors Highway Safety Association report showed that 15% of pedestrians killed each year are hit by drunk drivers. This is yet another statistic that proves getting behind the wheel while intoxicated can result in harm to yourself AND other people. While public opinion toward drunk driving has become overwhelmingly negative in recent years, other kinds of impaired driving don’t always get as much attention. As prescription drug use sharply increases, more drivers are getting into trouble for driving under the influence of drugs, even prescribed drugs at the appropriate dose. It is important for drivers to consider all substances they put in their bodies, because a seemingly innocent prescription can have dire consequences.
- The Road Itself. A large part of the problem is the design of the road on which the pedestrian is crossing. Roads and highways designed to allow higher speeds of travel increase the risk of crashes. In recent years, cities have employed varying engineering strategies to combat this issue, such as roundabouts, which force drivers to slow down.
- Pedestrian Errors. We tell our kids to look both ways before they cross the street, but do we also tell them to avoid checking their phones or zoning out with their headphones while walking? Pedestrians engage in many behaviors that endanger their lives when walking next to thousands of pounds of machinery moving 30 mph or more. For example, 34% of the pedestrians killed were legally drunk themselves – even if they were obeying traffic laws to the letter, they wouldn’t have had the reaction times to avoid being hit. Jaywalking continues to be a serious problem for pedestrians as well, as 72% of pedestrians are killed while between road and highway intersections, often jaywalking because they don’t want to walk to the nearest crosswalk or intersection.
Avoid Being a Statistic
Considering the potentially devastating consequences of being hit by a 4,000-pound vehicle, taking simple precautions as a walker or bicyclist is worth your time. Here are a few ways you can decrease your chances of getting hit (CDC):
- Wear reflective clothing and/or have reflective lights on your bicycle at night. The majority of pedestrian deaths occur at night when visibility is reduced.
- Walk on a path or sidewalk rather than the road itself. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the shoulder, facing traffic.
- Avoid risky pedestrian behaviors, like impaired walking, distracted walking, and jaywalking.
- Take advantage of crosswalk safety features, like flashing lights and countdown timers.
If you have taken these safety measures, you will be much more likely to enjoy walking and biking safely in your area. In the unfortunate event that you are still involved in a vehicle–pedestrian crash or bicycle collision, a knowledgeable New Jersey attorney can help you ensure that the driver is held responsible for your medical and emotional damages. For a free consultation, call Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., at (609) 240-0040.
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