Making streets safer for pedestrians
The latest numbers show that being a pedestrian is dangerous.
Pedestrian fatalities in the United States are at their highest level since 1990, with an estimated 6,227 killed in 2018, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Pedestrian fatalities now account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities. Another 129,000 or so pedestrians are treated for injuries each year.
Statistically, New Hampshire has the lowest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The run-for-your-life states with the highest rates are Florida, Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas and New Mexico. Still, there is more that states and localities can do.
The Concord (N.H.) Monitor reports that Main Street in the Granite State’s capital recently had a major redesign to make it much safer for pedestrians. Even so, the Monitor reports it usually takes just a few minutes of observation to see a motorist fail to yield to one or more pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Vehicle-pedestrian encounters have increased and become more deadly for several reasons; highway safety experts say. One factor is an old one. One-third of all pedestrian fatalities involved a walker whose blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit for driving. In many other cases, the driver is impaired.
Distraction on the part of both drivers and pedestrians, typically because of cellphone use, is to blame for many accidents. When they occur, thanks to the renewed popularity of SUVs and pickup trucks, pedestrian injuries are far more likely to be fatal. The bigger, higher vehicles also make it more difficult, when starting from a stop, for drivers to see children, people of small stature or wheelchair users. A disproportionate share of pedestrian fatalities involves victims in their seventies or older.
Technology, such as signals that flash when pedestrians approach a mid-block crosswalk and camera systems in newer vehicles, can help. So can public information campaigns and increased enforcement.
A study done in Miami Beach found that saturation enforcement of vehicle crosswalk laws increased the percentage of drivers who yielded to pedestrians by up to one-third, and the improvement lasted a year with minimal additional enforcement.
Concord’s police department carried out a similar campaign a decade ago, and in one week issued 106 warnings and 11 citations for motorists who ignored pedestrians in crosswalks.
Other communities could consider similar crackdowns. Yet no matter how many safety measures are taken, the old rule still applies. Don’t cross unless you can look the driver in the eyes first.