Stop! In The Name Of Life

It’s one of the first things we’re taught as children:  look both ways before you cross the street. Standing on the curb, little hands clasped in those of our parents, we take the implication as gospel. If we just just look both ways, we’re going to be safe. We’re going to be alright, and no harm will befall us. Right?

Then why are pedestrians being struck and killed at alarming rates while crossing the street?

For many years pedestrian deaths had been on the decline—down 20% annually since 1975, with an all time low in 2009. But in the intervening years, that number started to climb again, jumping a whopping 46% in 2016.

According to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a total of 5,987 pedestrians were struck and killed in 2016, accounting for 16% of all traffic fatalities—the highest rates since 2009. Pedestrian crashes have not only become deadlier, but they have become more common as well.

Researchers looked at the trends from 2009-2016 in an effort to understand the spike in fatalities and potentially save lives, hoping that by understanding the circumstances surrounding each death they might be able to implement preventative solutions.

From an article on the IIHS site, we were able to learn about their methodology:  “Using federal fatality data and crash numbers, the researchers looked at roadway, environmental, personal and vehicle factors to see how they changed over the study period. They also looked at changes in the number of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of pedestrians involved in crashes.”

What they found was that an increasing number of pedestrian deaths resulted from crashes involving SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles. In fact, SUV-related deaths have skyrocketed 81% in the past decade. The burning question is:  what’s behind them?

“SUVs have higher front ends, and often the design for the vehicle is much more vertical than passenger cars,” said IIHS President David Harkey. As a result, SUVs commonly strike pedestrians in the head and chest. Whereas a pedestrian might roll up and off a smaller car, potentially reducing injuries, larger vehicles (trucks and vans included) have more blunt of an impact.

The study concluded that changes to front-end designs would go a long way towards lessening the severity of pedestrian crashes.

Another takeaway from the IIHS study was when and where pedestrian fatalities were most likely to occur:  in urban and suburban environments (+55%), at non-intersections (+50%), on arterials (larger, busier roads meant to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways; +67%), and in the dark (+56%).

The increase in deaths along arterials isn’t entirely shocking, especially in Southern California where pedestrians have long distances to walk before reaching a crosswalk. The sheer infrequency of convenient crossing points means pedestrians are far more likely to cross elsewhere (i.e. illegally jaywalking), even if this means needing to run to avoid oncoming traffic. The most obvious solution is to design roads to be more pedestrian friendly.

By installing midblock crossings with pedestrian-activated beacons, drivers will know to stop as you cross the street, and lives will be saved.

Whereas we mostly hear about communities cracking down on driver behavior, some municipalities are aiming to change pedestrian behavior as well.

We’ve all gotten a gotten a chuckle from the countless YouTube compilations of people falling into fountains or bumping into signposts while staring at their phones, but as delightful as slapstick schadenfreude can be, texting and walking has become an increasing scourge on America’s roadways. If the risk to your life wasn’t enough to make you stop, how about your bad pedestrian habits costing your wallet?

Hawaiian lawmakers decided enough was enough, and in July of last year, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed a bill into law—the first of its kind in the nation from a major city. Pedestrians caught looking and their mobile phones or devices while crossing streets on the island of Oahu can expect to pay a fine—one that will only worsen for repeat offenders.

Southern California is starting to take notice, with the city of Montclair in San Bernardino passing an ordinance of its own. With police departments in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard actively pushing this month to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths, it doesn’t seem outside the reason of possibility that a laws like the above could be coming to Ventura County, too. One can only hope.

You can’t look both ways and dodge bad drivers traffic of you’re too busy texting mom. Wait until you cross the street—at a proper intersection, no less—before breaking out those emoji hearts.

From the bottom of hers, she’ll thank you for it. We promise.

Have a serious injury and need legal advice?
Contact Howard Blau.

Check Out These References for Further Reading:

“On Foot, At Risk:  Study highlights rising pedestrian deaths, points toward solutions.” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“What’s behind the 81 percent rise in pedestrians killed by SUVs?” NBC News. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“Pedestrians Will Be Fined for Looking at Cellphones While Crossing Street in Oahu.” NBC News. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“Pedestrian safety enforcement planned in Thousand Oaks.” Ventura County Star. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“Oxnard police to target bicycle, pedestrian safety.” Ventura County Star. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“Pedestrian Safety.” Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Retrieved 30 May 2018.

“Pedestrian Safety.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved 30 May 2018.