America’s Pedestrian Safety Crisis Isn’t Getting Any Better

Pedestrian deaths have increased 25 percent over the last five years. Graph: GHSA
Pedestrian deaths have increased 25 percent over the last five years. Graph: GHSA

America isn’t making progress on pedestrian safety, with people on foot accounting for a steadily rising share of overall traffic fatalities.

In 2017, for the second year running, nearly 6,000 people were struck and killed while walking in the U.S., according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association [PDF]. The pedestrian fatality rate remains about 25 percent higher than where it stood just a few years ago.

Other than the increase in driving mileage, there are few solid explanations of the factors at work. GHSA suggests distraction by mobile devices plays a role, as may impairment by marijuana, with pedestrian deaths rising more in states that have legalized weed. Neither explanation has been studied with scientific rigor, however.

One thing that’s certain is that city governments are in position to act on the problem, because pedestrian deaths are concentrated in urban areas. In 2016 alone, pedestrian fatalities in the 10 biggest U.S. cities rose 28 percent. In Los Angeles, the increase was 45 percent.

To reduce pedestrian fatalities, GHSA says states and local governments should focus on the following three areas.

More separation of pedestrians from motor vehicles

Basic pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks is in surprisingly short supply in many cities. Simple additions like median pedestrian islands can make street crossings safer and protect people on foot from turning drivers. GHSA also recommends timing traffic signals to give pedestrians more time to cross streets without interference from turning drivers.

Better visibility

Three-quarters of pedestrian deaths occur at night when visibility is reduced. GHSA recommends investing in better street lighting, more high-visibility crosswalks, and flashing beacons at crosswalks to make people walking more visible to motorists.

Reduce lethal motor vehicle speeds using engineering and enforcement

Fast driving increases the risk of striking pedestrians and makes severe injuries or fatalities more likely in the event of a crash.

To curb lethal motor vehicle speeds, GHSA recommends redesigning roads with bike lanes, speed bumps, narrower rights-of-way for cars, and automated speed enforcement.

  • LinuxGuy

    Common sense dictates we do the exact opposite of what is said here. How are ticket cameras going to stop pedestrians from walking out in front of cars, being drunk, talking on phones, wearing dark clothes at night, not using flashlights, etc? Also note that nowhere in sight is setting 85th percentile speed limits. I seem to recall a truck that was stopped, but it was clocked at 57 mph by a speed camera. That was widely reported. Oh yes, please get us some of these! Sadly, I found a pile of speed camera errors. Besides the low limits, and errors, many cams ticket barely above the speed limit.

    If you want accurate info on things like this, check out the National Motorists Association.

  • jcwconsult

    The article says: “Other than the increase in driving mileage, there are few solid explanations of the factors at work.”

    Most traffic events are best compared as rates. Crashes, injuries and fatalities are normally measured as X events per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In recent years, many cities and states have successfully encouraged more walking, so we have more pedestrians walking more miles in many places. That puts more of them at risks for crashes, usually in direct proportion to the increased miles of walking. This is not unusual, nor is it a crisis as some would want to make it. And given that about three quarters of pedestrian fatalities are at night, WHY don’t more pedestrians wear or carry something reflective to make them more visible to the drivers? I see cyclists using reflective vests and more lighting on their bikes for that reason. WHY don’t most pedestrians do some simple things that they can to help protect themselves?

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • John M. Baxter

    What is above would make much more sense if eliminating lanes, speed bumps, and greatly narrowed rights-of-way were, instead, replaced by some sort of sensible, accurate, and fair means of isolating speeders from the majority of responsible motorists. Too bad all Vision Zero concepts have no respect whatever, even for responsible drivers, and are essentially anti-car, when they should be pro-transportation and pro-safety.

  • Brent Hugh

    So we’re being spammed by the National Motorists Association here?

    That’s just great.

  • Biking in a skirt

    Even good drivers pollute the air nearby unless they’re driving electric cars, so that’s one reason to be anti-car. However, I agree with you that the bigger problem is bad drivers.

    IMO the best ways to isolate and prevent bad drivers are:
    1) Stricter licensing. More comprehensive and mandatory testing, to be repeated every decade, since some laws change and everyone gets old.
    2) Better enforcement. More speed cameras. More concern from cops toward things like tailgating.
    3) Stiffer penalties. Suspending more licenses, based on traffic offenses rather than unrelated offenses like debt.

    I’m a much more responsible, patient, and safety-conscious driver now than I was fifteen years ago. Many people can become better drivers than they are now. These incentives and education will help them do so – to the benefit of pedestrians, other drivers, passengers, and themselves.

  • John M. Baxter

    I’m very strongly in agreement with 99% of what you argue above. Great thoughts. My only concern is with speed cameras. Done right, a potentially great concept. But, there are issues with the reliability of their readings, and just where the speed at which a ticket is issued is set. As long as that speed is set at a truly reasonable level, and there is better means of adjudicating disputes (receiving your ticket a month after the event is ludicrous), and the camera is accurate, it’s much more selective and fair to use speed cameras than to cripple traffic with aggressive calming. Thanks for your very intelligent reply.

  • Michael

    How about 4th area: educating pedestrians, with heavy penalties for crossing streets on red, and not paying attention to traffic? Videos like this could be used as an evidence in court. It’s time to stop excusing stupidity and negligence of pedestrians!
    Of course, the same penalties should be for reckless drivers!

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