Although Americans drove far fewer miles in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the pedestrian death rate skyrocketed nationally, with blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans dying in disproportionate numbers when struck by motorists.
Preliminary data from the first half of last year shows that roughly the same number of pedestrian deaths occurred — 3,000 or so. But those fatalities happened when the nation recorded a more than 16% decline in vehicle miles traveled.
And the deaths in 2020 continued an ugly, decade-long trend in which pedestrian killings increased 46%, compared with a 5% increase in the same period for other vehicular fatalities. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported the sobering data and observed this:
“Walking is the most basic, inexpensive and environmentally friendly form of transportation. Walking provides essential connections between residential, retail, and commercial land use as well as access to public transit, especially in urban and suburban areas. Unfortunately, walking has become increasingly risky in recent years, whether walking the dog, traveling to work or school, exercising or simply taking a stroll.”
The key and unacceptable factors affecting pedestrian fatalities included “increased reckless driving behaviors, the need for safer road crossings and efforts to make pedestrians more visible through better lighting and other strategies, and the continued uptick in sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which cause more pedestrian impacts in the event of a collision,” the safety group said.
The experts, noting that pedestrians get killed far more at night, said that blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans may have been fatally struck more during the pandemic because they make up a bigger share of “essential workers” — people who had to go out and labor to make ends meet, regardless of the pandemic and public health restrictions.
Intoxication played a huge role for motorists who were arrested and charged in pedestrian fatalities, the group’s data show. The safety advocates stressed a multi-part approach to reducing road and highway deaths with the self-explanatory program of E’s: Enforcement, Engineering, Education, Emergency Medical Response and Equity. The efforts to better police, fix, and upgrade roads and to improve medical care at wreck scenes cannot bypass poorer communities of color, the experts said.
And while national and big-picture efforts will be needed to deal with this problem, the safety advocates also reported this:
“Many low-cost infrastructure improvements — such as restriping crosswalks, repairing or replacing pedestrian signals, inspecting, and repairing broken sidewalks, trimming trees that impede walking or block sight lines or increasing illumination at intersections — can impact how the community reacts to stepped up enforcement and messages that call on motorists and pedestrians to adopt key safety behaviors.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them by wrecks involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles and injuring and killing not only motorists and passengers but also cyclists and pedestrians.
The nation for years had made strides in reducing the road toll, only to see this progress rolled back in recent times. Intoxication, sleeplessness, and distraction all have become increasing and unacceptable contributing factors — along with problematic technology — as to why our vehicles are killing us, more and more. We can avoid traveling when we’re so tired we can’t keep our eyes open. We can lay off the booze, marijuana, and prescription medications before getting behind the wheel. We can turn down the music and put away the electronic devices, foregoing texts, selfies, watching videos, playing games — and heaven know what else reckless drivers may be doing, so their attention fails to be fixed on the road.