Pedestrian traffic deaths continue to rise, according to the annual Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report. Car accidents leading to pedestrian fatalities have risen by 67% nationwide since 2011, from 4,457 to 7,585. California, in particular, has seen a spike over just the past two years. State pedestrian fatalities saw a 5% increase between 2019 and 2020 and a further 2% jump from 2020 to 2021.
This troubling trend shows that pedestrians are in more danger than ever, despite attempts to make California cities more pedestrian-friendly. This rise in fatalities may be linked to the pandemic, but it shows little sign of going away even as states open up. Here’s what you need to know about this dangerous trend and how you can stay safe.
How the Pandemic Increased Pedestrian Accidents
The initial increase in fatal accidents is closely tied to the start of the pandemic. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, for much of 2020, roads were significantly emptier than usual as people remained home. This seems like it should imply a reduction in accidents and deaths.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. Overall, the gross total of pedestrian fatalities rose by 5% nationwide. When the reduced traffic volume was accounted for in the report, the fatality rate in 2020 was 21% higher per mile driven than in 2019.
So, what caused this increase? While the GHSA did not specifically identify a cause, first responders and medical professionals have their suspicions. According to them, pedestrians are dying more frequently during the pandemic specifically because the roads are less congested. Why? Because less traffic means that drivers feel comfortable going faster.
Speed is critical in determining whether the average person will survive getting hit by a car. According to Autoliv Research in Sweden, the risk of death doubles if someone gets hit by a vehicle moving at 30 mph compared to 25 mph. The victim is five times more likely to die if they’re hit at 30 mph compared to 19 mph.
Since the GHSA report only studied fatalities and not injuries, it is unclear whether overall accidents involving pedestrians changed. However, these other statistics imply that regardless of the overall likelihood of an accident, deaths increased because accidents occurred at higher speeds.
This trend continued into 2021. Even as roads filled up, pedestrian fatalities remained higher than in 2019. People were more likely to speed on highways and in residential areas, and overall traffic fatalities reached the highest point since 2006. In short, drivers learned bad habits during the pandemic, and pedestrians are currently suffering the fatal consequences.
Reasons for Deadly and Debilitating Pedestrian Car Crashes
While speed is the most significant factor in the outcome of a crash, it’s not the only cause of accidents. Other reasons for car accidents leading to death or serious injuries include:
- Drunk and intoxicated drivers: One of the most common reasons for traffic accidents overall is driver impairment. Drivers who consume alcohol, cannabis, or other recreational substances before getting behind the wheel have reduced situational awareness and reaction times. This makes it more likely that they fail to notice pedestrians and hit them.
- Distracted drivers: Drivers don’t have to be drunk to be dangerous, of course. Distractions can make a driver just as likely to get in an accident. These distractions may include texting, looking at their phone, or even talking with other people in the car. They can’t avoid a crash if they aren’t looking at the road.
- Poor visibility: More than 76% of all pedestrian fatalities occur at night. Poor visibility makes it significantly harder for even attentive drivers to see and avoid people or hazards.
- Insufficient infrastructure: Roadway conditions are increasingly crucial to pedestrian safety. Fatal accidents are more likely to occur where there is no sidewalk or crosswalk for people to use and where nighttime lighting is insufficient.
- Self-driving cars: These vehicles often struggle to identify pedestrians, particularly children, making fatal accidents more likely.
Staying Safe as a Pedestrian
Everyone is a pedestrian on occasion. Even if you are just walking from your car to your workplace or school, you are considered a pedestrian. This increase in fatalities means you’re at greater risk.
You can’t control what drivers do, so you can’t prevent every accident. However, by taking a few precautions, you can keep yourself safer when walking despite more dangerous conditions.
- Choose safe routes. Walk in brightly lit areas with sidewalks or paths whenever possible. If you need to walk somewhere without a path, walk facing traffic and as far from moving vehicles as possible.
- Be alert. Avoid wearing headphones or talking on the phone when you’re walking because you may not hear a car approaching. Similarly, avoid walking while impaired to ensure you’re aware of your surroundings.
- Be visible. If you need to walk in dim conditions or bad weather, do your best to make yourself visible. Wear bright colors and reflective items, or use a flashlight. This gives drivers a better chance of seeing you despite the reduced visibility.
- Never assume a driver sees you. Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean a car will respect it. Never assume a car will stop or the driver has noticed you. Always make eye contact with a driver or wait for vehicles to stop before you begin to cross the road.
Pursue Fair Compensation After Your Pedestrian Accident
If you or a loved one has been hit by a car while walking, you’re not alone. At the Ellis Firm, APLC, we are dedicated to helping clients like you pursue personal injury or wrongful death claims after car accidents. We have years of experience fighting for insurance funds and damages, so we are prepared to help you achieve the best possible outcome from your case. You can call our Temecula office at 951-289-0628 or contact us online to schedule your consultation and learn more about how we will fight for you after your accident.