*This post was originally published on March 28, 2018. It has been updated to include new information.
Despite the efforts of policymakers, safety advocates and law enforcement in recent years, pedestrian fatality rates continue to increase. The Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) reports that nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017, a 1.7% increase from 2016. These numbers represent the highest rates of pedestrian deaths since 1990.
Over the past several years, pedestrian deaths have risen as other types of traffic deaths have declined. In 2007, pedestrian deaths accounted for 11% of all traffic fatalities. In 2016, that number increased to 16%. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there was a 9% increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2016, following a 9.5% increase in 2015. Unfortunately, the problem does not appear to be decreasing, despite increased awareness and safety efforts, as well as improvements to vehicle safety.
Last year was the second deadliest year for pedestrians in the Coachella Valley this decade. A total of 19 pedestrian fatalities occurred in 2018 in the region. The worst year this decade was 2016, in which 26 pedestrians lost their lives on Coachella Valley roadways. Four of this year’s pedestrian deaths occurred on Ramon Road in Cathedral City. In November, city officials announced that signs were being put up in the medians on Ramon Road to discourage jaywalking. Authorities have cited jaywalking as a primary factor in many of the 2018 pedestrian fatalities, but there are certainly other factors contributing to these crashes.
What is Causing Increase in Pedestrian Deaths?
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute has collected data on crash fatalities, and reports that more young people are being injured in crashes. However, older adults are more likely to be killed in a pedestrian accident. The institute has pointed to distracted driving, as well as distracted walking, as potential explanations for the increase in pedestrian fatalities. Considering the total number of multimedia messages sent has more than tripled since 2010, the role of cell phones in driver and pedestrian distraction cannot be ignored.
However, there are certainly other possible contributors. There are more cars on the road now than just a few years ago. The economy has improved, which has led to higher populations in urban areas where pedestrian fatalities most often occur. The number of miles traveled by vehicles increased nearly 3% from 2015 to 2016. Alcohol continues to be a problem as well. According to the GHSA report, pedestrians or drivers had elevated BAC levels in nearly half of the fatal crashes that occurred in 2016. Walking at night is another factor, as 75% of fatal crashes occurred after dark.
The report also suggests that perhaps the legalization of marijuana in several states over the past few years has contributed to the problem. Washington, D.C. and the seven states that legalized recreational marijuana use from 2012 to 2016 have seen a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017. Compared with the combined 5.8% increase experienced by other states, the number certainly raises some questions.
What Can Be Done to Curb Pedestrian Deaths?
In a similar approach to distracted driving laws, some cities are passing ordinances to ban the use of cell phones while pedestrians cross the street. But will such laws be effective? Most states have laws on the books preventing drivers from texting while driving, and 14 states, including California, prohibit the use of any mobile device while driving. According to the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), data on laws prohibiting distracted driving shows mixed results. David G. Kidd, a senior researcher at the institute, says that, although laws coupled with strong enforcement can change behavior, there has not been a reduction in crashes that would correlate to a change in distracted driving behavior.
Safety advocates are also turning their attention to automakers to help curb the problem. Crash avoidance technologies, such as forward-collision warnings and emergency braking, should help reduce pedestrian accidents. Of course, these technologies don’t prevent drivers or pedestrians from being distracted on the road. But they can help bring down the astonishingly high number of pedestrian fatalities, which is desperately needed at this point.
Improvements to vehicle headlights could also potentially reduce fatal pedestrian crashes. According to the IIHS, headlights on most vehicles are outdated, which poses a risk for pedestrians at night—when a majority of fatal collisions occur. The group determined that two-thirds of lighting packages available on 21 small SUV models delivered poor performance. Ten midsize car and seven pickup truck models were also given a poor headlight performance rating. Despite the technology being available—adaptive beam technology is widely used in Europe and Japan—regulators have not changed old rules to allow the technology. Adaptive beam headlights automatically adjust to oncoming traffic, reducing glare and helping drivers see better in the dark.
While self-driving car technology is currently being tested, it will still be quite some time before autonomous vehicles are on the roads. Experts believe self-driving vehicles will greatly improve driver and pedestrian safety in the long-run. However, until that technology is perfected and introduced to the public at large, it is up to drivers and pedestrians to eliminate distractions and focus on safe driving.
“It is troubling that we continue to see such high rates of pedestrian deaths. Drivers and pedestrians alike need to prioritize safety on the road,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.
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DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.
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