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Why there are still too many pedestrian accidents

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Cars are dangerous; that’s one of the reasons they require auto insurance. Every time we drive, there’s a chance of having a collision with another vehicle, so we wear our seatbelts, pay our premiums and drive smart. What about pedestrians, though?

Cars and pedestrians share many spaces, from crosswalks to parking lots. While vehicular accidents are more common than pedestrian accidents, the latter still occurs far too often. With some knowledge and effort, though, we can get these numbers down. Whether driving or on foot, we all benefit from preventing pedestrian accidents.

What is a pedestrian accident?

A pedestrian accident is when someone within a motorized vehicle has a collision with someone who is not in a motorized vehicle. Some usage of this definition will even include bicyclists as pedestrians. The key idea is that an unprotected person is hit by a vehicle. 

These accidents generally occur in places where cars and pedestrians overlap. The majority of these incidents occur on roadways where pedestrians might cross.

Pedestrian accident rates affect us all. The vast majority of us spend more time out of a car than we do in one. As a result, we tend to spend more time as pedestrians than drivers, and none of us want to get hit by a car. But even when you’re the driver, a pedestrian accident can be costly and traumatic.   

How many pedestrian accidents are there annually?

According to the United States Department of Transportation, 6,247 car accidents involved a pedestrian in 2018. The same data set shows that these accidents have been on an upswing for at least four years, from 2014 to 2018. During that time, they went from an annual accident rate of 4,883 to 6,247. 

Data for 2019 and 2020 are not yet available, but if the pattern holds, there will be more accidents than in previous years.

How can you avoid hitting a pedestrian?

When it comes to driving, there are some strategic choices you can make to reduce your risks of hitting a pedestrian:

  • Follow road laws: Following the laws will keep you out of most accidents if everyone else is following the law too.
  • Be aware of pedestrian crossings: Knowing where pedestrians are likely to be can help you to be cautious of them even before you see them. For example, if you know that at the top of a hill is a pedestrian crosswalk, slow down and approach it cautiously.
  • Don’t use heavy acceleration from a stopped position: When crossing the road, people tend to see cars stopped at stop lights as safe. If a stopped car guns the engine when the light turns green, though, that vehicle might hit the pedestrian before they have time to finish crossing the road.
  • Be patient: If you aren’t sure why traffic has slowed down, don’t speed around the cars in front of you. There might be a person on the road.
  • Drive slowly through pedestrian areas: When driving through a pedestrian area, drive slowly and cautiously even if it looks like there are no pedestrians.
  • Yield to pedestrians: When you see a pedestrian crossing the road, don’t speed up and go around them. Doing so endangers you both. Instead, slow down and wait for them to finish crossing your path before you accelerate again.
  • Be mindful of weather: Rain can make the roads slick and reduce visibility. If there’s rain or other inhibiting weather, take this into account. You’ll need to drive slower in pedestrian areas when visibility is low, and you’ll need to stop sooner when the roads are wet to keep your wheels from sliding.
  • Avoid distractions while driving: Being distracted by your phone or a snack is a great way to get into an accident. When you’re driving, keep your attention on the road and the operation of the vehicle. Anything less is inviting an accident.

Remember that the more drivers do this, the safer you will be when you are a pedestrian. 

How can you avoid getting hit as a pedestrian?

It isn’t just the driver’s responsibility to be safe on the road. Here are things pedestrians should do:

  • Look both ways: When crossing any road, make sure you look both ways and spot any vehicles moving towards you. Don’t cross until the way is clear.
  • Only cross at crosswalks: Drivers expect pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections but are less mindful of them during other stretches of road. Cross in places where the drivers are going to be the most cautious of you.
  • Be mindful of the weather: Keep an eye on the weather and know how it impacts driving. When it rains, drivers will have a more challenging time seeing you, and they will not be able to stop as quickly. Being extra visible during bad weather is an excellent tactic.
  • Look for eye contact: Try to make eye contact with drivers to make sure that they are aware of you. Don’t cross in front of cars if you think they are unaware of you. Even at a stoplight, these cars might accelerate quickly before realizing there is a pedestrian in the road.
  • Be visible: Being visible encourages drivers to be aware of you. Especially at night, wear bright clothes and carry a flashlight. The better drivers can see you, the less likely they are to hit you.
  • Stay out of the road when possible: If there is a sidewalk, walk on that instead of on the road. If you must walk on the road, walk on the shoulder facing oncoming traffic.

It is your responsibility to do what you can to stay safe when you are walking around roads.

Will there be some technological innovations?

While they have been slow to integrate, several safety-oriented technological innovations have become available for cars. 

The most cutting edge of this new technology in cars is emerging around automated driving. These technologies may lead to self-driving vehicles that are safer than even the best human driver, but they aren’t there yet. 

Pedestrian detection and avoidance systems, though, are up and working in some areas and showing a great deal of promise. These systems use geo coordinates and aggregate traffic data to determine where pedestrians are relative to traffic.

Both of these technologies have begun entering the commercial realm in the last few years, but they are still relatively young and untried. However, there is a great deal of momentum behind both automated cars and pedestrian avoidance systems. We can likely expect to see these technologies improve and become more commercially available over the next decade.

We can’t be sure how many lives these technologies will save, but it is expected to be significant. The National Safety Council stated that in 2018, 8% of vehicle accidents involved distraction while 2% involved drowsiness. Both of these types of driver mistakes are ones that technology can help mitigate.

Which cities have the most pedestrian accidents?

Some cities have more risk than others.

CityPedestrian deaths (2008 – 2017)Annual fatalities per 100,000 people (2008 – 2017)**Pedestrian Danger Index
1.      Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL6562.82313.3
2.      Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL2123.45265.4
3.      Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL1652.94245
4.      North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL1942.58234.6
5.      Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL1622.54230.9
6.      Jacksonville, FL4192.94226.2
7.      Bakersfield, CA2472.83217.7
8.      Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL1482.17217
9.      Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL9003.07204.7
10.  Jackson, MS1111.92192

*Sourced from smartgrowthamerica.com.

**A metric devised by the researchers at smartgrowthamerica.com to determine pedestrian risk by city.

What happens if you hit a pedestrian?

It depends on who is considered at fault for the accident. Either way, you will likely see an increase in your insurance premiums

If you are at fault for the accident, you can expect one or more citations and a significant increase in your insurance premiums. You and your insurance will also have to cover any medical bills that might arise for the pedestrian from the accident.

But what happens if you hit a pedestrian jaywalking? Hitting a pedestrian jaywalking can have a different outcome. 

Depending on local laws, the pedestrian may be issued citations, but you will probably not be. In this case, your insurance premium might still go up, but not nearly as much as it would if you were at fault. Depending on local laws and extenuating circumstances, the pedestrian may be liable for any damages done to your or your car if they are at fault.

The takeaway

  • Pedestrian accidents are all too common, and they affect us all.
  • Over 6,000 people were hit by cars in 2018.
  • Being mindful and taking precautions can reduce pedestrian accidents.
  • Technological advances are emerging to reduce pedestrian accidents.
  • Most pedestrian accidents occur on city roads.

Conclusion

Whether walking or driving, reducing pedestrian accidents is an obvious goal. Technology is emerging to help us in this endeavor, but it isn’t there yet. For now, the most crucial preventative method is for pedestrians and drivers to be aware and mindful of each other. When both sides follow the rules and keep an eye out for each other, the risk of accidents drops.

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