According to the national Governors Highway Safety Association, pedestrian accidents killed more than 6,700 Americans in 2020. That would be the most deaths in motor vehicle-pedestrian collisions since at least 2000. This grim figure would also mean the rate of pedestrian fatalities jumped 21 percent from 2019 to last year.
Many, if not most, incidents where a driver strikes a pedestrian happen in large cities like New York. Each one is unique in how and why it happened, but here are three common causes of tragic, preventable traffic fatalities.
Drivers who go too fast often cannot stop in time to yield to someone crossing the intersection. Experts believe speeding grew much worse nationwide during 2020, as emptier roads gave many reckless drivers the unjustified excuse to go well above posted speed limits. This probably contributed to the spike in pedestrian deaths.
Poor road design
Though New York and other U.S. cities have made some improvements, most urban streets were designed with cars and trucks in mind, not pedestrians or bicyclists. Wide, smooth lanes encourage drivers to speed through intersections, putting pedestrians in danger. Experts like Rohit Aggarwala, New York’s former director of long-term planning and sustainability, suggest that cities remodel their major thoroughfares to narrow lanes and install speed bumps. Aggrawala also wants cities to use their traffic cameras to enforce more moving violations than just speeding to encourage motorists to be more careful and aware of their surroundings.
U.S. automakers have greatly improved protections for drivers and passengers thanks to safety features like seat belts, airbags and crumple zones. At the same time, the biggest sellers these days are huge pickup trucks and SUVs that give drivers less visibility of the road and a false sense of security that causes them to drive more aggressively. The U.S. does not hold its automakers to the same pedestrian safety standards as in Europe, where manufacturers must slope their hoods to give drivers a clear view of what (or who) is right in front of them. Pedestrian-detection technology similar to the systems that detect when another vehicle is nearby would also help.
No matter how careful a pedestrian is while crossing the street, they can still get caught in the path of a negligent driver. And the human body is highly vulnerable to impact from a multi-ton steel vehicle. Serious harm like brain trauma and spinal cord injuries is all too common.