Pedestrian Safety in a Motorized Society
All of us at one time or another gets around as a pedestrian. We cannot always get from place-to-place in our cars, trucks, and SUVs. Remarkably, pedestrians were one of the only groups with access to roads that saw an increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2015,and from 2015 to 2016. To put numbers to this phenomenon, there were over 5,000 pedestrian deaths in 2015 and almost 6,000 in 2016. On average, 14%-15% of traffic fatalities are suffered by pedestrians, with the peak hours of danger between 6:00p and 10:00p in the evening.
Government organizations such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) are taking notice of this alarming trend and looking for not only explanations but also solutions to what has emerged as a real public safety issue. At first glance, it would seem to be the case that this trend should be going in the opposite direction. Vehicles are just safer than they were 10 years ago, with increasingly sophisticated semi-autonomous features that can warn drivers if there are obstructions in the road, if they are drifting out of their lane, or if there are nearby objects in their blind spots that could prove to be a hazard.
So, again, why the trend? One explanation would be that there is a real convergence of factors putting more cars on the road: a strong, stable economy, coupled with gas prices that are still relatively low. Unfortunately, this is only a partial answer, and these economic conditions have been in place before in the past without this corresponding increase in pedestrian harm. The other part of the story probably lies in the fact that we have enters an age of personal electronics that takes us to a level of distraction previously unseen.
Just take a moment to observe both drivers and pedestrians at a busy intersection. Undoubtedly, you will see a significant number of both glancing down at their cell phones, texting, or engaged in conversation via their device. The level of distraction that modern technology affords us has undoubtedly led to drivers responding less quickly (or not at all) to pedestrians in their path and pedestrians themselves being guilty of overlooking traffic signals while engrossed in their screens.
A third factor pointing to the increase in pedestrian deaths is likely the fact that drivers are just going faster. If a pedestrian is struck at 20 miles per hour, they have a 10 percent chance of being killed. However, if they are hit with a driver moving at 40 miles per hour, that number jumps to an 80 percent chance of being killed. In response, many communities are working to reduce speed through changing speed limits –25 miles per hour in most cities – greater enforcement of these limits, and even physical methods such as speed bumps and road grooves that signal to drivers that they are approaching more congested areas.
Lastly, there is alcohol. Drunk drivers have been the bane of pedestrians (and other drivers) since there have been automobiles. Fortunately, public awareness on this issue has reached a level where no one can reasonably claim ignorance at the dangers of drunk driving.
Ultimately, the response to this uptick in fatalities will revolve around, reduction of speed limits, more sidewalks, and pedestrian paths, and better road designs. These are certainly straightforward solutions but will require political will and taxpayer dollars to see them through.