Why, Oh Why? Another Deadly Year for Pedestrians

Photo:  Weinstein Legal
Photo: Weinstein Legal

America’s pedestrian safety crisis isn’t going anywhere.

Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration — the second highest figure since 1990.

The highest was 2016 — meaning that the last two years have been the deadliest for walkers in our nation’s history.

The 5,977 dead pedestrians represents a 2-percent drop since 2016. But that’s the extent of the “good” news.

Pedestrian deaths overall remain 46 percent higher than they were in 2009:

Pedestrian deaths have increased nearly 50 percent since 2009. Graph: Streetsblog. Source data: NHTSA
Pedestrian deaths have increased nearly 50 percent since 2009. Graph: Streetsblog. Source data: NHTSA

It’s, frankly, outrageous, said Heidi Simon of America Walks.

“We know what works to reduce pedestrian fatalities,” she told Streetsblog, citing a need for more basic infrastructure changes such as road diets and bike lanes, in addition wider efforts to reduce speeding.

“We need the political will and the commitment to do so,” she added.

Interestingly, while fatalities declined for many groups, including 1 percent for car occupants and 8 percent for cyclists, they increased 3 percent for occupants of SUVs and for drivers of large commercial trucks they increased 18 percent.

A host of data supports the idea that the growth of SUVs has been a contributing factor in the explosive growth of pedestrian deaths. Pressure has been building on federal traffic safety organizations to use their regulatory authority to address the danger posed by SUVs. But the Trump Administration has resisted any attempt to hold automakers accountable for pedestrian safety.

Regulations targeting blind spots and other safety weaknesses in large commercial trucks have also been lacking. These vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate share of bike and pedestrian deaths. Rather than work to improve them, the Trump Administration actually rolled back new safety measures for large commercial trucks that moved forward during the Obama years.

Traffic deaths overall have been rising at a fast clip since 2014. Early data for 2018, however, is projecting a 3 percent total decline over 2017.

95 thoughts on Why, Oh Why? Another Deadly Year for Pedestrians

  1. I have a feeling the proliferation of smart phones is as or more responsible than SUVs. Drivers are constantly on their phones these days and unaware of the risks.

  2. It would be beneficial to know how these deaths are occurring. General thought threads blaming SUVs isn’t good enough. SUVs are not going away, nor are they going to be regulated in a manner that protects pedestrians no matter how popular that might be in the echo chamber. I’m a pedestrian and have been all my life. I’d much rather walk than drive. I almost never feel threatened. For me, wide streets without center islands where right turn on red is legal are the worst but I recognize this and take special care in these situations. If I could change one thing, it would be to outlaw RTOR everywhere. I think that might fix a lot of the problem but I don’t know because it’s always about the vehicles involved rather than the practices (by both motorists and peds) that are the root cause of the carnage.

  3. NHTSA research shows that a high majority of pedestrian fatalities occur at night and/or in travel lanes of roads not at a crosswalk. Light colored and/or reflective clothing as many cyclists wear today could reduce pedestrians’ risks. Using particular care when needing to cross in areas without crosswalks would also reduce risks.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. There is another very effective way to reduce risks from vehicles turning right when cars have the green. The pedestrian signals can be advanced so pedestrians can enter the crosswalks BEFORE the cars get a green light. This works very well in Chicago.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  5. Cyclists and pedestrians need to realize that MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATORS ARE A LOWER SPECIES THAN HUMAN BEINGS and equip ourselves with visibility gear to compensate for motoring primates’ inferior eyesight and attention spans. They’re “drivers,” they’re not “people.”

  6. We could also, you know, slow down traffic in cities and build more crosswalks. Asking someone to carry around and wear reflective clothing to convenience a motorist that may or may not be staring at their phone is stupid.

  7. It isn’t to convenience the motorist, it is have a much higher chance to be seen. It can be as simple as reflective arm bands. Why any pedestrian would want to have a lower chance to be seen and a higher chance to be killed is mystifying.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  8. It is mostly left turning vehicles that hit pedestrians. I think there should be some campaign to make ALL vehicles aware of how dangerous they are when they are making left turns.

  9. None of that does you any good. They see you, but, somehow have the dumb idea in their heads that they can turn while pedestrians are in the crosswalk. A lot of dumb ideas are going around out there about the laws for pedestrians now. These people do not know they cannot go through while we are in the crosswalk.

  10. It’s definitely to convenience the motorist and it’s continuously leveraged as an excuse to get away with killing and maiming people. The idea that simply doing the most basic human thing, walking, requires someone to carry around additional clothing is absolutely insane. Make it harder to drive fast.

  11. So of course you have reached out to the various manufacturing associations, telling them to make ALL their clothes include reflective and/or glow-in-the-dark fibers. Right?
    And how about telling the biggest clothing sellers, starting with Walmart and Amazon?
    And don’t forget the shoe manufacturers! All shoes should have reflective elements, too.
    Didn’t think so.

  12. All cars have lights and many places have traffic lights. Aren’t we all taught in driver’s ed to see at least 3 seconds ahead of us and expect the unexpected?

  13. I am sorry you have so little understand of the realities of driver behavior. When officials rely on such little understanding – safety improvements get more difficult or impossible to achieve.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  14. There’s never a 100% reason for something or solution for something but there is a very strong correlation between the rise in SUV popularity and increase in pedestrian deaths,

  15. Self protection actions should be in play. My car doesn’t put on my seat belt, but I sure do.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  16. OR some extra care after dark when you know you are far less visible.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  17. I see a great number of pedestrians from my vehicle, and very few cases of endangerment.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  18. Left turns, especially on two-way streets is the greatest contributing factor, but it isn’t mostly left turning vehicles in total.

  19. I’m tiring of the advocacy community calling for more bike lanes when talking about pedestrian safety and fatalities. Bicyclists are not wheeled pedestrians. It is effectively co-opting ped fatalities and crashes to advance bike advocacy interests.

  20. And Dave is a mouth-breather. Great contribution to the discussion. And you are actually feeding the same BS as JC Walker with this notion that peds have to don magical gear to avoid being hit by cars.

  21. You just said so yourself in the post above! WTF?! You said “…equip ourselves with visibility gear”.

  22. Answer my question from the other article. Do you don reflective clothing to cross the street when you get out of your car at night? If not, STFU with your BS assertions.

  23. You apparently lack the understanding since you keep defending it and stating that it is something we have to live with and compensate for as the person at risk. F*ck you are annoying.

  24. As mckillio noted, apparently you aren’t walking much, or happen to live in a place with very courteous drivers. I’ve had motorists foaming at the mouth because I actually crossed in the crosswalk, with the signal and delayed their turn.

  25. And what if you aren’t waiting at the intersection when it turns green? The leading ped interval is typically about 4 seconds. Arrive after that and it is no different than on concurrent start up with the green phase. It helps, but only to a degree.

  26. No, I am just exceptionally careful and patient when crossing streets after dark because I assume I am much less visible.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  27. When officials rely on such little understanding – safety improvements get more difficult or impossible to achieve. Remember, one definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and over and expecting a different result.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. I’ve driven for over 1.1 million miles in 27 countries. I did drive for two years in Moscow where it is “open season” on pedestrians and other vehicles 24/7/365.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  29. I do. I have no wish to hurt or kill someone – even when they are technically wrong and do not have the legal right of way.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  30. I have experienced this many times in Chicago. Granted it helps the most when pedestrian counts are high – but it has worked for me walking back to my hotel after an opera downtown at 11PM to Midnight at times when the pedestrian count is quite low.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  31. well people have their face glued down on their phone while crossing the street. start ticketing them

  32. No, I am just exceptionally careful and patient when crossing streets after dark because I assume I am much less visible. I make the assumption that drivers will not see me and do not cross unless it is safe to do so.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  33. Our city of Coeur d’Alene ID tracks all crashes involving people on foot and people driving motor vehicle (and people riding bicycles and people driving) and a majority of those crashes happen in intersections (which by Idaho law all intersections have crosswalks whether they are marked or unmarked) or in parking lots during the day.

    This whole thing about people walking having to wear reflective clothing is a cop out for officials and regulators who refuse to take measures to ensure that all road users are safe.

    No one is putting on a reflective vest every time they step out of their vehicle to walk into the grocery store and they shouldn’t have to.

    Head injuries happening in motor vehicle accidents is the third highest behind Falls and Striking injuries. Should we require helmets for people driving like we have required seat belts? https://www.brainline.org/slideshow/infographic-leading-causes-traumatic-brain-injury

    My answer is no, but we need to stop trying to add temporary “bandaids” to issues that we should be working on preventing in the first place.

  34. Agreed. Americans are on a foolish trend to drive SUVs and Crossovers that are heavier, worse in handling, worse on fuel economy, and cost more than the sedan platforms they are based on. Europeans are smarter, they have not gone for large SUVs and Crossovers.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  35. Bike lanes narrow the street and make driving feel more unpredictable, causing drivers to slow down. They also replace some car trips with bike trips, and ultimately reducing car VMTs is the best way to increase pedestrian safety.

  36. I’m with you and all your drive-by comments, jcw.

    Walking is a lifestyle choice that requires special clothing and precautions in order to increase your survival odds while doing it.

    And of course breathers (another lifestyle choice) need to get used to wearing masks. While of course children have already gotten used to playing in dark basements alone.

    Everyone just needs to change their normal behavior in order to allow metal boxes to fly by them at high speeds all day.

  37. People can do as they wish, and they will do just that. I assume drivers cannot see me after dark, so I am exceptionally careful when crossing. I am lucky that a less careful person has not crossed in front of me at night without sufficient clearance.

    If you base what you want to happen on hoping drivers will voluntarily drive well below the actual 85th percentile speeds at night on main collector & arterial streets – your plans will fail. I am only interested in plans that are realistic and can succeed.

    If the slowest 85% of the drivers are at or below about 45 mph, they will be at or below 42 to 48 mph regardless of whether the limit is posted at 55, 50, 45, 40, 35, 30, or 25. Basing your plans on anything other than that fact guarantees failure.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists

  38. “Light colored and/or reflective clothing as many cyclists wear today could reduce pedestrians’ risks. Using particular care when needing to cross in areas without crosswalks would also reduce risks.”

    I’m with you on this one re pedestrians should be responsible for their own road safety; however, your suggestion “for pedestrians to wear light colored and/or reflective clothing” isn’t the best approach or a feasible solution which is equivalent to telling cyclists they must wear helmets for their own safety.

    “We know what works to reduce pedestrian fatalities,” she told Streetsblog, citing a need for more basic infrastructure changes such as road diets and bike lanes, in addition wider efforts to reduce speeding.”

    The focus and objective of pedestrian safety at streetsblog is always to change the infrastructure with road diets and add bike lanes to reduce speeding, but I think you would agree road diets and bike lanes do not absolve pedestrians from showing due care for their own safety. These infrastructure changes only reduce the risk of pedestrian hazards, but they don’t remove all the risks (e.g., running a red light).

    Instead of promoting light colored and/or reflective clothing, looking both ways and/or making eye contact with motorists remains the most effective solution with or without infrastructure improvements.

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