Stories of pedestrians hit and killed by drivers are all too common in the news these days here in San Antonio. But according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, this is a symptom of a national problem with an estimated 6,590 pedestrian deaths in 2019. This is a 5% increase over 2018 and a whopping 50% increase since 2009.
While traffic fatalities have remained relatively stable in recent years, pedestrian-related deaths in 2019 were the highest in 40 years – the numbers continually declined for 30 years before they began to climb again in 2009. In 2018, the most recent year with complete data, pedestrians now account for 17% of all road fatalities, up from 12% in 2009.
Why the increase?
This historic shift alarms safety experts, but they are not surprised. The leading causes include:
- Distracted drivers: The use of devices by drivers has reached epidemic proportions, leading to new laws that still have not stopped the problem.
- Modern vehicles: The increased sales of SUVs and larger cars and trucks means more vehicles on the road with plenty of horsepower and less maneuverability. The larger vehicles with more weight also translate into a higher number of fatalities when they strike a pedestrian.
- Intoxication: Driving under the influence remains a stubborn problem, accounting for 16% of all pedestrian deaths.
- Road design: Until recently, municipalities focused on traffic flow instead of pedestrian safety. They are now instituting more lighted crosswalks, pedestrian islands on wide roads, safer pedestrian walkways, and other measures.
Biggest jump at night
Seventy-five percent of all pedestrian fatalities now occur at night. Ideally, shifts in road design and improved street lighting will make a difference. However, law enforcement can also step up by enforcing speed limits in areas with pedestrians and set up DUI checkpoints to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers.
Victims families may need to act
Unless law enforcement arrests the driver on suspicion of DUI, there is a good chance that they will not face criminal charges. Nevertheless, the victim’s family may hold the negligent driver accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Often families are paid for loss of income, medical expenses related to the injuries, and survivors’ pain and suffering.