I live in an area that has a lot of pedestrians and automobile traffic. And it never ceases to amaze me the number of pedestrians who step out into the crosswalk without checking to see if the vehicles are, indeed, stopping. As I tell my children, just ’cause you have the right of way doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any less dead after the car hits you. A new study highlights the problem as it reveals that pedestrian deaths have risen dramatically over the last few years.
Pedestrian deaths have jumped 46 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2009, as pedestrian crashes have become both deadlier and more frequent. The increase has been mostly in urban or suburban areas, at nonintersections, on arterials — busy roads designed mainly to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways — and in the dark, a new IIHS study shows. Crashes were increasingly likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles.
The researchers found that not only did pedestrian crashes increase, they also became deadlier. Deaths per 100 crash involvements increased 29 percent from 2010, when they reached their lowest point, to 2015, the most recent year that data on all crashes, including nonfatal ones, were available.
From 2009 to 2016, the largest increases in pedestrian deaths occurred under the circumstances that historically have seen the highest numbers of pedestrian fatalities. Pedestrian deaths increased 54 percent in urban areas, which include both cities and what most people consider suburbs. They also increased 67 percent on arterials, 50 percent at nonintersections and 56 percent in the dark.
Although pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81 percent, more than any other type of vehicle. The power of passenger vehicles involved in fatal single-vehicle pedestrian crashes, as measured by the ratio of horsepower to weight, also increased, with larger increases at the top of the scale.
The study found that part of the problem is the lack of adequate urban planning. A lack of sidewalks and too few convenient and safe crosswalks are important variables that help determine whether or not an area has seen a dramatic increase in pedestrian deaths. However, increasing easy and safe access for pedestrians to cross busy highways isn’t a panacea. The study also found that systems that help alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians go a long way toward lowing pedestrian deaths.
Anecdotally, I’ve witnessed this. In Arlington, Virginia, where I live, there are many crosswalks that aren’t at traffic lights. According to state law, the pedestrians have the right of way. One problem is that drivers are not only in abundance, but they also tend to be more aggressive than in other parts of the country. Driving Arlington’s streets during peak times requires undivided attention to the vehicles around you. Throw in the possibility of a pedestrian stepping out in front of your car, and driving in Arlington can feel like you’re a participant in a game of Frogger, except you’re not the frog.
Vehicles rarely stop for pedestrians, even though pedestrians have the right of way. Much of the time, it’s because drivers don’t realize that a pedestrian is waiting to cross the road until their car is right on top of the crosswalk. Most pedestrians have learned to wait and not count on vehicles yielding. Sadly, I have seen pedestrians struck by a vehicle while in a crosswalk.
However, there are a few crosswalks that have very bright flashing lights that signal the presence of pedestrians. I’ve never witnessed cars not stopping for pedestrians in those instances.
The study does provide some solutions. One thing that we can all do, drivers and pedestrians alike, is to be more diligent about our surroundings. We may not like sharing the road, but our preferences are not as important as the life of another human being.