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Pedestrian Deaths Skyrocket

Going for a walk has never been riskier. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)[1], 5,987 deaths in pedestrian accidents involving vehicles in 2016. That’s the highest jump since 1990 and is 48% higher than in 2009 when pedestrian fatalities were at their lowest.

A closer look at these grim statistics shows that improvements in road infrastructure and changes in motorist and pedestrian behaviors may help reverse this alarming rise.

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian behaviors contributing to the huge jump:

Attempting to cross roadways with higher speed limits, also known as arterials

A 67% increase in fatalities from 2009 to 2016
Arterial roads are meant to funnel traffic from surface streets to freeways and highways. These are not pedestrian-friendly streets. Vehicles routinely travel at higher speeds and sidewalks may be narrow or even non-existent.

Arterials also have multiple lanes and tend to be very wide. Crosswalks are often limited and can be up to a half mile apart.

Crossing at night

A 56% increase in fatalities from 2009 to 2016
Pedestrian deaths from 2009 to 2016 increased by a whopping 56% after dark. Besides the obvious poorer visibility at night, other contributing factors include pedestrians wearing dark clothing and increased levels of impairment on the part of both pedestrians and motorists after the sun goes down.


A 50% increase in fatalities from 2009 to 2016
Even in densely populated areas, pedestrians will sometimes cross in the middle of the street instead of at a crosswalk, even when one is readily available.

From 2009 to 2016, the number of pedestrians who were killed because they did not use a crosswalk increased by 50%.

Motorist behaviors contributing to the huge jump:

Speeding, especially in an SUV

Driving aggressively is bad enough, doing it in a large vehicle, such as an SUV can be deadly. Since 2009, the number of pedestrians killed by SUVs soared to a depressingly high 81%. This can partially be attributed to the increased popularity of SUVs. There are more of them on the road now than in 2009.

The design of SUVs also makes them more dangerous to pedestrians. Because they’re higher than a regular passenger car, they are more likely to hit a pedestrian in the head in an accident, increasing the possibility of a fatal injury.

 Bad headlights

A large portion of pedestrian accidents involving fatalities happens at night. Oddly, even newer cars often have headlights that do not provide a clear line of sight in the dark. That, along with possible impairment and/or drowsiness can cause motorists to not spot a pedestrian until it’s too late.

The IIHS began rating manufacturer headlights in 2016.[2] In that year, only 2 vehicles were rated as good. On a positive note, manufacturers continue to improve headlights in order to improve visibility. In 2018, the number of makes and models rated as good by the IIHS increased to the current 26.

 Steps to Improve Safety:

 Simply installing more crosswalks is a start, but more needs to be done. Various cities around the country are taking innovative steps to improve pedestrian safety avoid pedestrian deaths. Some measures are innovative, while others, such as cracking down on speeding motorists are well known.

 The HAWK Beacon

One innovative approach that seems to be working is the HAWK beacon. A HAWK beacon differs from a regular traffic light in that it is not continuously on. It only operates when it is activated by a pedestrian or cyclist.

When it is activated, it gives drivers and pedestrians alike specific indications of when to stop, walk and go. It’s also highly visible at night and most importantly, effective. A 2010 FHWA study found that HAWK beacons helped reduce accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles by an impressive 69%.[3]


First proposed and initiated in San Francisco, Daylighting involves removing parking spots closest to curbs to allow for a better line of sight for both pedestrians and motorists. San Francisco has already converted 80 intersections, especially in its most congested neighborhoods.

Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)

These streetlights give pedestrians the right of way for a specific amount of time before allowing vehicles through. The thinking is that any sort of head start will place pedestrians at least halfway across the street, thus increasing their visibility to motorists.

Discussions about pedestrian safety almost always end up with finger pointing between pedestrians and motorists.

It doesn’t have to be such a polarizing debate. Both motorists and pedestrians can do their share to improve road safety. Foremost, no one should walk or drive distracted.

We can all agree to not drive or walk while on our cell phones. It’s important to be aware of each other while on the road. That alone will help keep everyone safer and hopefully help drive down the number of accidents and pedestrian fatalities on our roads.

If you or someone you know has been injured by the negligence of another, call the personal injury lawyers at Wilshire Law Firm now.

[1] http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news
[2] http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/more-than-half-of-midsize-suv-headlights-tested-rate-marginal-or-poor
[3] https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/tools_solve/fhwasa14014/

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