Written By Christopher Dolan and Jeremy Jessup
This week’s question comes from Jordan from Emeryville: As people have started to get out more, I keep hearing about pedestrians being struck by cars. I know this is nothing new but seems to be coming up a lot more lately. Do you know what the trend is, I hope I am just paranoid, and whether or not anyone is doing anything to address the issue, if there is one?
With the holiday season upon us, and despite the cold weather, people are out shopping and just being out more. With the current status of COVID-19, ridership on public transportation is still down, so those without vehicles, have taken to walking. But unfortunately, you are correct, though not a new problem, accidents involving pedestrians are on the rise. Earlier this year, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projected that 2020 had the largest ever annual increase in the rate at which drivers struck and killed pedestrians, and they were correct.
According to the GHSA the likely culprits are speeding, drunk driving, drugged driving, and distraction, which were rampant on U.S. roads during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the March GHSA report also examined the 2019 FARS data to provide insights on trends regarding these issues. Some of the findings include the following:
- Pedestrians accounted for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019, compared to 13% in 2010. While pedestrian deaths have risen by 46% over the past decade, the number of all other traffic deaths has increased by only 5%
- Drivers struck and killed a larger proportion of pedestrians that were minorities, including Black, Indigenous and People of Color, than expected based on the population. On the other hand, white/non-Hispanic pedestrians accounted for a considerably smaller proportion based on population
- Most pedestrians are killed on local roads, in the dark and away from intersections. During the past 10 years, the number of pedestrians struck and killed after dark increased by 54%, compared to a 16% rise in pedestrian fatalities in daylight
- Alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian was reported in nearly half of traffic crashes that resulted in a pedestrian fatality
- Although passenger cars make up the largest categories of vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes, over the past decade the number of pedestrian deaths in crashes involving SUVs has increased at a faster rate – 69% – than deaths in crashes involving passenger cars, which increased by 46%.
“Last year was filled with so much death and loss as COVID swept across the country. As America gets vaccinated and returns to normal, we need to treat pedestrian safety like the public health emergency that it is,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “We must strengthen our efforts to protect those on foot from traffic violence by implementing equitable and proven countermeasures that protect people walking and address those driving behaviors that pose the greatest risk.”
However, given the wide-open roads that existed following the stay in place order, many drivers have failed to adjust to more people being out and about. “The wrecks that are occurring are at higher speeds,” said Dr. James Augustine, the medical director for emergency medical services in Atlanta, as well as a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.
To help with this issue, AB43 was introduced by State Assemblymember Laura Friedman out of Glendale, to assist cities struggling to combat pedestrian fatalities. Beginning in 2022, cities will be able to force drivers to slow down on accident-prone streets. AB43 gives cities new authority to reduce limits in increments of 5 mph by factoring the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in traffic surveys. The state’s existing standards set limits based upon certain findings determined by an engineering and traffic survey and on the speed drivers feel comfortable driving at, rather than what’s actually safe.
Unfortunately, while it should be the ultimate duty of drivers to pay attention and follow the rules of the road, pedestrians should be mindful of the hazards and follow a few basic tips:
- Increase your visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and wearing reflective clothing, such as reflective vests.
- Cross streets at a designated crosswalk or intersection whenever possible.
- Walk on a sidewalk or path instead of the road. Walk on the shoulder and facing traffic if a sidewalk or path is not available.
- Avoid using electronic devices like earbuds or walking if you have been using alcohol or drugs. They can cause distractions and impair judgement and coordination.