According to the 2021 Dangerous By Design report from Smart Growth America (SGA), Georgia is the 9th most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians. Many of our closest neighbors are faring even worse. In fact, nine of the 10 most dangerous states are in the south, with Florida and Alabama claiming the top two slots.
That doesn’t mean the problem is concentrated in the southeast, though. Nationwide, annual pedestrian fatalities nationwide increased by 45%, from 4,302 in 2010 to 6,237 in 2019. Some factors, such as an increase in distracted driving, also impact other types of motor vehicle accidents. Still, the number of driver and vehicle occupant fatalities increased by just 3.7% during the same period.
Why is Pedestrian Risk So High?
Many factors contribute to the growing risk to pedestrians in Georgia and around the country. The SGA report focuses on elements of road design, such as wide lanes, poorly marked crosswalks, and wide intersections. Some of the concerns raised in the report may be counterintuitive. For example, as a drive you may find a wider intersection easier to navigate. But, according to SGA, that’s precisely the problem: the ease of turning encourages drivers to make turns at higher speeds, reducing the reaction time available if a pedestrian enters the intersection and increasing the likelihood of serious injury or death.
Other factors include:
- Speed obviously increases the risk of hitting a pedestrian. That’s partly because the driver has less time to react and the pedestrian has less opportunity to change course, but there’s more. At higher speeds, the driver’s field of vision is reduced. Higher speeds also significantly increase the chances that a pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle will be killed. Even a small increase in speed can make a significant difference. About 45% of pedestrians struck by a motor vehicle traveling 30 mph are killed, compared with about 85% at 40 mph.
- Larger, heavier vehicles are more likely to kill pedestrians. Since 2007, the percentage of new vehicles purchased that are SUVs has increased significantly, from about 28% to more than 40%. During the same period, the percentage of new-vehicle buyers opting for sedans has declined. The share purchasing pickup trucks has increased only slightly, but those vehicles have steadily increased in size. A pedestrian hit by an SUV, large pick-up truck, or other heavier vehicle is more likely to suffer serious injuries or die. A larger share of large, heavy vehicles on the road means a higher percentage of pedestrian accidents ending in death.
- Driving distractions have increased. Over the past couple of decades, potential distractions on the road have skyrocketed as smart phones have provided access to an increasing number of channels of communication, in-vehicle devices (some designed to enhance safety) have added sounds and displays. Even utilitarian features like GPS can be a distraction. That’s in addition to standard non-tech distractions like children and pets in the vehicle, engaging with passengers, reading billboards, changing the music, lighting a cigarette, and eating or drinking.
- Risky pedestrian behaviors. Pedestrians get distracted too. Thus far, experts disagree on how much phenomena like walking and texting and the widespread use of headphones among pedestrians and runners have impacted pedestrian risk. Still, we’ve all seen a pedestrian step into the intersection while looking down at her phone or called out to someone on the street who didn’t’ hear us because they were engrossed in the audio-book or podcast playing in their ears. But, that’s not the only way pedestrians contribute to accidents. In one recent year, 32% of pedestrians killed in traffic were under the influence of alcohol.
Preventing Pedestrian Fatalities
Some factors are outside the control of drivers and pedestrians, such as road design and crosswalk markings. And, the number of larger vehicles on the road isn’t likely to decline significantly in the immediate future. But, precautions from both drivers and pedestrians can help reduce the risks.
The most significant are obvious. Distracted driving increases the likelihood of a collision, including the likelihood of hitting a pedestrian. Speed increases the likelihood that a pedestrian who is hit will be seriously injured or killed. So, the simple steps of remaining vigilant on the road, observing speed limits, and reducing speed where safety requires it can significantly improve pedestrian safety.
It’s also important to note that some of the design flaws highlighted in the SGA report can be mitigated when drivers are conscious of the risks. For example, the natural impulse may be to take a wider turn at a higher rate of speed, but that’s a choice.
Most pedestrian accidents involve negligence on the part of at least one party. When a driver is negligent, whether that means speeding, driving under the influence, texting while driving, or some other carelessness, that driver may be liable for damages.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of pedestrian accidents. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.