In 2018, 6.227 pedestrians were killed on America’s roadways — the highest number in almost 30 years. There has been a 30-percent increase in these fatalities in just the last 10 years. Many of them occurred in large cities like New York.
Why such a large increase? The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently did research to find out. The group, which represents state and local safety programs, recently released its report.
One of the main problems for pedestrians in most cities is a lack of appropriate infrastructure. That would include sidewalks on every street and marked crosswalks at short intervals. It does no good to argue that jaywalkers should use crosswalks if they are so far apart that no one would bother.
Jaywalking isn’t really the problem, anyway. Cities and states keep focusing their road growth on accommodating cars, not walkers and bikers. Building roads for cars leaves a lot of roads impassable for pedestrians and cyclists — yet many people have no choice but to traverse them.
According to the GHSA, however, these are long-term problems that probably aren’t responsible for the increase in pedestrian deaths over the last decade.
“Looking at the various metrics available,” said the author of the GHSA report, “the ones that pop out to me are distraction related to smartphone use and the market share increase in SUVs.”
Smartphone distraction and the popularity of the large vehicle
Let’s start with the increasing popularity of SUVs and light trucks. Since 2013, consumers have been buying these larger vehicles at a much higher rate than they do smaller cars. That simply makes a pedestrian accident more serious. The increased weight and momentum of the larger vehicle can change what would have been an injury into a fatality.
The other big factor is the skyrocketing levels of distraction caused by smartphone technology. Since 2008, cellphone data usage has grown 4,000 percent among both pedestrians and drivers. People simply aren’t paying as much attention to the road.
We can’t simply rely on technology to get us out of the problem, either. Autonomous and semi-autonomous cars are equipped with sensors that are supposed to detect pedestrians and stop the vehicle, but the sensors have been known to fail. Even if it were uniformly effective, it’s not installed on most of the cars that need it most — those driven by people.
According to a spokesperson for the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, human error is responsible for about 94 percent of crashes.
That leaves us struggling to get bad drivers to behave, through changes in policing, differences in policy, or personal injury lawsuits.