Pedestrian deaths in the United States have hit a 30-year high, according to new data, and California is seeing a jump in death rates that are well above national averages.
In fact, pedestrian deaths in California jumped 12% in the first half of last year, well above the national average increase of 3%, according to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a non-profit that works to improve roadway safety. In all, more than 6,500 pedestrians were killed in 2019 in the United States, the highest number since 1988.
Some of the reasons for this increase? SUVs, drug and alcohol use, warm weather and cellphones are to blame, officials say.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of pedestrian accidents, dives into the local and state issue of pedestrian safety, why we’re seeing an increase in pedestrian accidents, and what’s being done to combat the problem.
STATE, LOCAL PROBLEMS
Five states — California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida — accounted for 47% of pedestrian deaths, yet these states make up 33% of the U.S. population. California had 1.31 deaths per 100,000 people. That ranked it as the ninth most dangerous state, behind New Mexico, Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada. Vermont was the safest state, with 0.18 deaths per 100,000 people.
At the same time, Bakersfield and Kern County has also seen the number of pedestrian accidents rise to an alarming rate. In a study last year, Bakersfield ranked as the seventh deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians. Between 2008 to 2017, Bakersfield saw a total of 247 pedestrian deaths, bringing the annual pedestrian fatality rate to 2.83 per 100,000 residents, according to the report titled “Dangerous By Design” by Smart Growth America. While the number of pedestrians has only increased by a mere 1 percent during the past decade, Bakersfield saw fatalities of pedestrians rise an astounding 35.4 percent.
Bakersfield was the only California city ranked in the top 23 worst cities for pedestrians, according to that study that looked at pedestrian safety in cities of different sizes, density, and rates of walking.
The governors’ report noted several reasons for the uptick in pedestrian accidents and fatalities:
- SUVs: Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to be killed as those hit by a car. Over the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian deaths involving SUVs went up 81%, well above the increase in passenger-car related deaths.
- Speeding, alcohol use and other unsafe driving or pedestrian behavior: Alcohol impairment — by either the driver or pedestrian — was involved in nearly half the crashes that led to fatalities in 2018.
- Unsafe road crossings: Over the past decade, nighttime pedestrian deaths went up 67%. Daytime fatalities were up 16%.
Warmer weather also encourages more nighttime outdoor activity and is associated with more drinking, which increases the risk of fatal pedestrian collisions, studies show.
Another reason includes smartphones, which have been a source of cognitive and visual distraction for all road users, pedestrian or otherwise. Additionally, road designs continue to be tailored to drivers only, and are not taking pedestrian safety into account, and wide lanes with high speed limits and few sidewalks are also to blame.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
The latest report cites efforts by the state to reduce pedestrian dangers including initiatives involving classroom education, community events, presentations and workshops. These countermeasures are conducted in communities with high numbers of pedestrian-related collisions including under-served communities, older adults and school-aged children.
Coordinated efforts such as Safe Routes to School initiatives, Vision Zero campaigns and work with community-based organizations to prevent fatalities and injuries among vulnerable non-motorized road users.
Also cited in the report were California’s engineering improvements, including “using pedestrian warning signs, implementing high-visibility crosswalk markings, imposing parking restrictions to improve visibility and adjusting traffic signals at certain intersections to give pedestrians a head start before a vehicle turns.”
HOW TO STAY SAFE
Here are some safety tips that pedestrians and drivers can use to decrease accidents, and potentially save lives:
- Look out for pedestrians, especially in hard-to-see conditions such as at night or in bad weather.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or entering a crosswalk where pedestrians are likely to be.
- Stop at the crosswalk stop line to give drivers in other lanes an opportunity to see and yield to the pedestrians, too.
- Be cautious when backing up; pedestrians, especially young children, can move across your path.
- Be obvious and predictable, crossing at crosswalks or intersections only, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible if there is no sidewalk
- Make eye contact with drivers; never assume a driver sees you
- Look left-right-left before stepping into a crosswalk. Having a green light or the “WALK” signal does not mean that it is safe to cross
- Look for cars baking up, including white backup lights or signs the vehicle is running.
- Don’t dart out between parked cars
- Avoid distractions. Don’t walk and use your phone at the same time
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials at night
- Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, cross at crosswalks or intersections, and obey signs and signals.
- Walk facing traffic, and if there is no sidewalk, walk as far from traffic as possible.
- Pay attention to the traffic moving around you. This is not the time to be texting or talking on a cell phone.
- Make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Never assume a driver sees you.
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.
- Look left, right, and then left again before crossing a street.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.