It's a dangerous time to be a pedestrian. According to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), an estimated 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017. That number has remained unchanged since 2016, and represents an increase of 27 percent over the last decade. In fact, such a high level of accidents has not been seen in the U.S. nationally for over 25 years.
As the weather warms up and people head back outside, these statistics create a stark picture of why everyone - drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians - needs to take road-sharing seriously.
Why such high numbers?
Pedestrian accidents have always been a risk in more urban settings where multiple modes of transportation are used daily, like in Wheaton. Speeding, failing to obey traffic signals and poor street lighting are common culprits (75 percent of pedestrian accidents happen at night). Lest you think drivers bear the full responsibility, issues like jaywalking or using the street instead of the sidewalk also increase pedestrians' risk of getting into an accident.
But these issues have been around almost as long as cars have been. They do not explain the dramatic increase in pedestrian accidents of late, especially given the number of new safety features on vehicles like back-up cameras, blind-spot blinkers and automatic emergency braking systems.
The GHSA's report speculates that part of the problem is (as you might have guessed) cellphones - specifically smartphones. The organization notes that smartphone use has increased 236 percent since 2010. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 660,000 people use their smartphones while driving. While correlation doesn't equal causation, it's pretty clear that the rise of smartphone use and the rise in pedestrian deaths are too similar to ignore.
What can be done?
Part of reducing this alarming trend starts at home. When heading out to the car, make use of hands-free devices like Bluetooth if you have them, or turn off your notifications altogether.
The same could be said if you're out walking. USA Today notes that more and more people today are just as likely to text and walk as text and drive. Such distractions can lead to collisions on the sidewalk or worse - in the road.
Cities can also do their part to prevent pedestrian accidents by:
- Increasing lighting and traffic signals at known busy intersections
- Increasing enforcement of speeding limits and distracted driving laws
- Analyzing whether such laws need improvements to reduce accidents
- Improving road conditions, sidewalks, crosswalks and other areas of high congestion to make sharing roads safe for everyone
Thankfully, it seems Wheaton has already adopted some of these measures. The city's Downtown Wheaton Strategic and Streetscape Plan aims to make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly by improving lighting, signage and sidewalks. It will also upgrade Martin Memorial Plaza to include more seating and scenery.
Such improvements will only increase our ability to combat the tragic rise of pedestrian accidents. Let's hope that other municipalities follow suit.