In about ten years, the number of pedestrian deaths nationwide has increased 50%, even while overall traffic fatalities have been going down. It’s getting to be safer to be in a car than it is to walk on the sidewalk.
What’s happening? The authorities are quick to blame pedestrians for their injuries, saying that smartphones have made walkers increasingly distracted — but research indicates that’s not exactly true. Smartphones are just as prolific in other countries that haven’t seen pedestrian deaths rise.
So what is going wrong in the United States? According to the newest research, classism may be the biggest culprit. While vehicles are getting bigger and heavier and drivers are going faster, the real problem may be the fact that the people in charge of the cities and suburbs prioritize affluent consumers more than they do people who are economically disadvantaged — especially the elderly and people of color.
The author of a book on America’s “silent epidemic” of pedestrian deaths points to the very different reactions that can happen when a pedestrian dies. When a 12-year-old White boy was killed in Brooklyn after running into a street after a ball, political forces mobilized and (among other things) lowered speed limits in the city to 25 mph. When a four-year-old Black boy was killed crossing a street in an Atlanta suburb where there were few lights and crosswalks available to make safe crossing easier, the police charged the boy’s mother (also a pedestrian in the accident and who owned no vehicle) with vehicular homicide.
A lot of pedestrian deaths could be prevented if the authorities invested in infrastructure changes like median islands, narrower roads to slow traffic and crosswalks — but those take money and representation that isn’t given to the poorer classes of people.
If you were seriously injured in a pedestrian accident or a loved one was killed, you have a right to seek compensation for your losses. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t. Speak with an experienced advocate about your options.