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Pedestrians Risk Death on Roadways

While overall US traffic deaths have been steadily falling, pedestrian fatalities have reached a nearly 30-year high.

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Walking is a great way to get outside for a bit of fresh air, get some exercise, and maybe even lessen your carbon footprint, but it can also be surprisingly dangerous as pedestrians risk death on roadways these days.  According to the latest estimates of the Governors Highway Safety Association, the risk of a pedestrian getting hit by a car has increased by a jaw-dropping 35 percent in the last 10 years. The increased popularity of SUVs, crossover vehicles, and pickup trucks is one of the leading causes for this deadly trend: the number of SUVs involved in pedestrian deaths has increased by 50 percent since 2013. These bigger, heavier vehicles may be safer for the occupants inside, but they are more likely to gravely injure or kill a pedestrian than if a lighter, lower-profile car were to hit the same walker. A pedestrian who is hit by an SUV is at higher risk of sustaining injuries directly to their head or chest — which tend to be more serious — than if they were hit by a lower-riding car, which is likelier to strike a person in the legs. Some car companies are even exploring implementation of pedestrian airbags on the outside of cars to make collisions less deadly for walkers.

Steven Good / Shutterstock

Another factor in the increasing number of pedestrian fatalities is a familiar one: distracted driving. We all know that it’s not safe (or legal!) to text and drive, but it’s also true that talking on the phone is dangerously distracting for drivers, even when the talking is hands-free. The bottom line is that the human brain is not built to multi-task, despite our persistent belief to the contrary, meaning that any time you focus on something other than just driving you are putting yourself and others at risk. The best and safest practice is to put your phone on do-not-disturb mode whenever you get in your car, to ensure that it doesn’t cause a fatal distraction when you are behind the wheel.

Crossing the street should not be a death sentence.”   

In recent years we’ve also seen a trend in many communities toward healthier lifestyles, which often translates to people being more physically active and walking more. The number of Americans walking to work increased by about 4 percent between 2007 and 2016, and people are seeking trendy walkable downtowns for their leisure time. It’s simple numbers: the more people on foot, the more opportunities for an encounter with a vehicle. And pedestrians can be distracted, too! Listening to music on earbuds, being deep in conversation with a friend, or looking at a smartphone — doing any of these things means a decreased awareness of surroundings.

It’s also important to keep in mind the role that environment plays in these accidents: frequent and well-marked crosswalks and well-lit roadways are essential to reducing the risk to pedestrians. And while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a budget of about $1 billion, it can be argued that more of that money should be focused specifically on pedestrian safety. Much of that budget flows toward road and bridge repair and expansion, making it easier for cars to travel at ever-faster speeds, which isn’t a good thing for pedestrians!

So it’s up to all of us — pedestrians and drivers alike — to keep our eyes open and be aware of what’s going on around us on the roadway. Everyone at Burnett & Williams is invested in making sure that all of us are as safe as we can be on our roads, sidewalks, and crosswalks!


Burnett & Williams Personal Injury Lawyers are experienced with all vehicle injuries including those sustained by pedestrians and bicyclists. If you’ve been hurt in an accident with a vehicle and need representation or advice, call us for a free consultation. (703) 777-1650, or contact us here on the web.