The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily slowed down the rate of all types of accidents, since people are traveling and commuting less. However, if you set this impermanent effect aside, we're seeing an alarming trend: significantly higher pedestrian deaths as a result of motor vehicle accidents.
You should expect a different trend. Over time, we've become more safety conscious as a society; we're more aware of the risk factors that cause accidents, and we've created better infrastructure to support pedestrians and drivers alike. Additionally, motor vehicles are being equipped with better and better safety equipment to minimize the risk of accidents and reduce the possibility of serious injury.
Despite all this, why are pedestrian deaths still rising?
The Increased Risks of Pedestrian Accidents
One important thing to note is the increased risks of injury and death in pedestrian accidents. According to personal injury law firm Schultz & Myers, "the most tragic accidents are often the ones that involve pedestrians. Unlike drivers and passengers, pedestrians have no form of protection. There's no seatbelt. There's no airbag. There's no steel frame to guard them. They take the full force of the impact, and it can have devastating consequences."
It should be no surprise, then, that rates of injury and death are higher for pedestrian accidents than for other types of car accidents. It also makes sense that advanced safety equipment in vehicles would have a negligible impact on reducing pedestrian deaths, since pedestrians aren't receiving the direct benefits of such equipment.
This doesn't explain why deaths would be increasing, however. What factors could be responsible for this trend?
More Motorists on the Road
One possible explanation is that there are simply more motorists on the road. There are more people driving cars, so necessarily, the total number of car accidents should increase as well.
There are more motorists on the road for many reasons:
- Accessible car loans. Car loans are incredibly easy to get, even if you have questionable credit. This is such a trend that many experts speculate we could be in the middle stages of a car loan bubble.
- Low fuel prices. Relatively speaking, gas prices are low. Fuel prices often dictate how often people are willing to drive, and these days, driving is cheap.
- Low barriers to entry. It's a simple matter to get a driver's license and most tests are ridiculously easy.
Smartphones and Distractions
Another major factor for the increased rate of pedestrian deaths is the emergence of smartphones and the increased risk of distractions. Distracted drivers often overlook pedestrians in their environment, or neglect to see important traffic signs. They also suffer from slower reaction times, rendering them unable to avoid catastrophic situations in time.
Distractions are also a problem for pedestrians; people texting or checking their email often wander into the street without looking both ways or verifying an active walk signal.
Increased Interest in Walking
These issues are complicated by the fact that more pedestrians are walking around, thanks to several influencing factors.
- Walkable cities. Many major cities in the United States have taken pride in becoming more "walkable," adding sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks and other features to encourage more pedestrians.
- Green transportation. Some people are walking to work in order to reduce their carbon footprint and protect the environment.
- Activity trackers. Activity trackers are encouraging Americans to get more steps of physical activity each day, driving more pedestrian foot traffic.
How to Increase Your Safety as a Pedestrian
If you're walking around as a pedestrian, there are several ways you can increase your safety and avoid becoming part of these increasing statistics:
- Walk in safe areas. If you can, avoid the busiest and least-protected areas; instead, stick to roads with better safety features.
- Make yourself visible. Cars will avoid you more consistently if they can see you. Avoid hiding yourself behind objects, and make yourself as visible as possible.
- Follow signs and traffic laws. Don't jaywalk. Follow all posted signs and signals, and try to avoid all traffic laws.
- Behave predictably. It's incredibly hard to avoid hitting someone who moves erratically in front of you. Try to walk and behave in a predictable manner that all drivers can follow.
- Avoid distractions and intoxication. Some pedestrian deaths are the fault of the pedestrian being distracted, or moving in a dangerous way due to intoxication.
- Know how to respond to an accident. If you do find yourself involved in an accident, get to safety and call for help immediately.
There are many interacting factors responsible for the increased numbers of pedestrian deaths, and when the COVID-19 pandemic is over and people return to the roads in greater numbers, we'll likely see the trend continue. Drive safely, and if you're a pedestrian, take extra caution to be aware of your surroundings.
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