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Pedestrian Fatalities at a Record High

Maryland personal injury lawyerThe start of 2018 brought some sobering statistics; pedestrian fatalities are among the highest this country has ever seen. According to a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA), just under 6,000 pedestrians lost their lives last year.

“We’ve plateaued at a very bad place,” claims the report’s author Richard Retting. “This should not be a new normal.”

So, what could be causing this increase? More vehicles on the road? An increased use of smartphones among pedestrians and drivers? Marijuana use? The GHSA report suggests all three may be factors.

More vehicles on the road

One obvious reason for the increase in pedestrian deaths is the increase in vehicles on the road. According to the Federal Highway Administration, between 2015 and 2016 the number of miles traveled by vehicles increased 2.8 percent. It then jumped another 1.2 percent during the first half of 2017.

And while it does not appear that we will see a decrease in the number vehicles any time soon, traffic safety experts have proposed several solutions to reduce these roadway deaths. Such solutions include designing roads and vehicles to be safer. But what does it mean to have a safer vehicle?

Car and tech companies are investing billions of dollars in autonomous vehicles, which are expected to dramatically reduce the number of roadway deaths, including pedestrian deaths. We have already seen some implementation of autonomous driving features. For instance, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu has a pedestrian detection system with automatic braking. As the name suggests, the pedestrian detection system detects that a pedestrian could be in the vehicle’s path of travel and employs automatic emergency brakes to avoid striking the pedestrian. Business Insider predicts that by the year 2020 there will be an estimated 10 million completely self-driving cars on the road.

Increased use of smartphones

According to CTIA’s 2016 Annual Wireless Industry Survey, there are 395.9 million total mobile active devices in the U.S., which equates to more than 1.2 wireless devices per American.  The report notes that “heavy traffic-generating devices like smartphones” have increased 238 percent since 2010.

The growing use of cell phones among both pedestrians and drivers presents a clear risk. A person who is distracted by their cell phone cannot also simultaneously be cognizant of their surroundings. “Somebody staring at their phone for two seconds at 40 mph has covered a very long distance. It’s not hard to imagine a pedestrian at the wrong place, wrong time, never being seen by the driver,” says Retting. If a pedestrian is preoccupied with his or her cell phone, he or she may not see and therefore possibly avoid being struck by a reckless driver.

While it is easy to see why pedestrians and drivers should abstain from using their smartphone/cell phone devices during travel, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests that both pedestrians and drivers take the following additional precautions to avoid hitting a pedestrian,

For Pedestrians:

  • Walk on sidewalks whenever they are available.
  • If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
  • Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections whenever possible. This is where drivers expect pedestrians.
  • If there are no crosswalks or intersections available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic and it has the best view of you. Wait until traffic is clear and you have enough time to safely cross the street. Keep an eye out for traffic as you cross.
  • Never assume a driver can see you. To ensure that you’re seen, always make eye contact with the driver first.
  • Always make yourself visible at all times. You can do this by wearing bright clothing during the daytime. During the night hours, you should wear reflective gear and/or carry a flashlight.
  • Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol before and when walking. They can impair your judgement and ability to react in the event of a hazard.
  • Look both ways before pulling out or turning. Drivers have a natural tendency to only look for traffic coming toward them from the lane or direction they wish to travel when turning.  Keep your head on a swivel.
  • Backing up or out of a space requires you as a driver to focus on a number of different areas behind you.  Ease out or back, especially in parking lots where pedestrian traffic is very concentrated
  • As a pedestrian you too must be more cautious when walking across or in and a parking lot because the field of vision is totally different and the tendency of there to be more blindspots. Don’t assume anything or that you can be seen.
  • Slow down and be ready to stop when turning around corners or approaching crosswalks.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and keep a safe distance to allow vehicles to see pedestrians so they can also stop.
  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be people crossing that you can’t see.

For a complete list of safety precautions visit the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Marijuana use

The GHSA report also suggests a connection between pedestrian deaths in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use and pedestrian deaths. In those states, pedestrian deaths collectively increased 16.4 percent during the first half of 2017, and actually dropped in those states that did not legalize marijuana. However, it is difficult to assess the extent of the drug’s role in pedestrian accidents due to the presence of various factors, including the timing of each state’s implementation of such policies.

One state that has been scrutinized on this issue is Washington, which legalized marijuana in 2012 and opened its first dispensaries in 2014. According to the Traffic Safety Commission, in 2015 and 2016 there was an increase in fatal accidents in Washington where THC, the active chemical in marijuana, was present in the blood of either the driver or the pedestrian.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t give us a clear picture on causation as there is also data indicating that 70 to 80 percent those individuals also tested positive for other drugs and/or alcohol.

Any suggestion of causation is further skewed by the fact that THC can be detected up to four weeks after marijuana use.

Other contributing factors of pedestrian collisions that were noted in the GHSA report are the recurring factors we hear about in most traffic accidents. In the report, close to half of the fatal pedestrian crashes in 2016 involved elevated blood-alcohol levels in either the driver or the pedestrian, and 75 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes occurred after dark.

Several localities have adopted pedestrian safety initiatives designed to address and eliminate these traffic fatalities. Of the most popular is “Vision Zero,” which comprises a set of policies directed at eradicating all kinds of traffic fatalities. Among localities participating in Vision Zero are Alexandria, VA, Montgomery County, MD, and The District of Columbia. San Francisco and New York were the first two cities to adopt Vision Zero and have reported significant decline in traffic fatalities.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in an accident, we invite you to set up a free consultation. These consultations are designed to help us establish the facts of your claim, evaluate your potential for compensation and develop the best strategy to help you. Your free consultation is also an opportunity for you to ask us any questions you may have about your legal rights and figure out if we're the right fit for you. And best of all, if you decide to hire us to represent you, you only have to pay if we win your case. That's because the Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC in Rockville, Maryland, works on a contingency fee basis. There are no hidden fees, no surprises.

Pedestrian crashes in 2016 involved elevated blood-alcohol levels in either the driver or the pedestrian, and 75 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes occurred after dark.

Several localities have adopted pedestrian safety initiatives designed to address and eliminate these traffic fatalities. Of the most popular is Vision Zero which comprises a set of policies directed at eradicating all kinds of traffic fatalities. Among localities participating in Vision Zero are Alexandria, VA, Montgomery County, MD, and The District of Columbia. San Francisco and New York were the first two cities to adopt Vision Zero and have reported significant decline in traffic fatalities.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in an accident, we invite you to set up a free consultation. These consultations are designed to help us establish the facts of your claim, evaluate your potential for compensation and develop the best strategy to help you. Your free consultation is also an opportunity for you to ask us any questions you may have about your legal rights and figure out if we're the right fit for you. And best of all, if you decide to hire us to represent you, you only have to pay if we win your case. That's because the Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC in Rockville, Maryland, works on a contingency fee basis. There are no hidden fees, no surprises.

 

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