Far Too Many Pedestrian Deaths on the Roads of the USA, 2018

It is human nature that if we consider it at all, we tend to think only about ourselves when it comes to highway safety, primarily the chances of us or our loved ones being killed or seriously injured in a car crash. But pedestrians represent about one in six of all people killed on America’s roads and we are all pedestrians at times.

Jay walkers crossing a street.
Hands up anyone who has never crossed a road where we shouldn’t have, quite possibly because we just couldn’t be bothered to walk to a crosswalk. As people get older we might get a bit wiser about this everyday occurrence but then age itself can make it harder to walk all the way to a proper crossing and perhaps all the way back on the other side. This, together with worsening reaction times, can turn the simple act of crossing a street into something deadly. Copyright image, 2018.

In the USA, the Pedestrian Situation is Particularly Bad

On average, 16 pedestrians are killed every single day on America’s roads — at least six thousand two hundred and twenty seven in 2018 alone (preliminary figures). And the number of pedestrians injured is dramatically higher.

Even more shocking is the fact that pedestrian fatalities have increased by an astonishing 35 percent since 2009.

In a new report from the Governors’ Highway Safety Association [GHSA] on this subject (and linked below), they write:

Achieving robust and sustained progress toward reducing – and someday eliminating — pedestrian fatalities and injuries requires a comprehensive approach to pedestrian safety that combines:

  • Enforcement;
  • Engineering;
  • Education; and
  • Emergency medical response.

Programs should incorporate the latest advances in technology and best practices and must be tailored to the needs of state and local communities.’ [End of excerpt]

Quite rightly, the aspects listed above are four of the so-called “Five E’s” of road safety (with the important one that is not listed being “Evaluation”). This does, however, raise a critical question which hinges around the fact that other developed nations with equally-busy roads and equal or greater population and traffic densities have for decades been achieving dramatically lower rates of pedestrian deaths. So just one of our questions to the GHSA et al, on this critical subject, is: What research studies on more effective crosswalk design from other countries are you using in your pursuit of the crucial best practices?

using best practices from more successful countries is essential & has a lot to offer

The next three photographs show just one type of the dramatically safer crosswalk facilities that may be found in Europe yet which are not used in America. There are important details in the captions.

A pelican-style pedestrian crossing or crosswalk in Britain, specifically showing fencing on the centre reserve and the mandatory zig-zag lines on either side.
This is a mid-block pedestrian crosswalk known in this case as a “Pelican Crossing.” The first thing to notice is the fencing in the median and on both sidewalks. This is designed to channel pedestrians onto the crossing and not allow them to ignore it and simply run across the road nearby. The distinctive white zig-zag lines at each side and between the lanes indicate a zone in which no vehicles may park, so that pedestrians have nothing blocking their view of approaching vehicles, and vice versa for drivers to be able to see all pedestrians. These markings also prohibit any drivers from overtaking other vehicles on the approach to the crossing These are both critical safety issues that are effectively absent in the USA, where some states misguidedly allow vehicles to be parked right up to the crosswalks. Copyright image, 2018.
The center island of a pelican pedestrian crossing / crosswalk in Britain, showing the protection provided to people waiting to cross the second half of the road.
Another “Pelican Crossing,” this time showing that when pedestrians reach the middle of the road they are physically protected by impact-resistant fencing and they are also forced to follow a dog-leg to reach the second half of the crossing. This is to stop people trying to run right across in one go. The two halves of the crossing have independent sets of traffic lights so it is normal for pedestrians who have reached the middle to have to wait for a green signal to cross the second half. This approach minimizes traffic delays but keeps pedestrians safe. Copyright image, 2018.
This shows pedestrians waiting in a protected zone on the median of a busy city street. The crosswalk for the other side of the street is on the left in this image, directly behind the photographer. On the median beyond the pedestrians can be seen the metal fence which stops people ignoring the crosswalk and simply crossing the road nearby. Copyright image, 2018.

so what are some of the pedestrian safety failings in the USa?

One reason for posting the above three images is to repeat our serious point that if America and the individual states want to increase pedestrian safety. as is so urgently needed, then not only are more mid-block crosswalks essential but all crosswalks need to have more effective, safer designs and stronger rules than those currently in use in the USA.

The following photographs all illustrate common safety failings at crosswalks in the USA.

The facility for drivers to “turn right on red” in the USA may be great for drivers’ convenience and traffic flow but drivers commonly don’t stop before crossing the crosswalk at their entrance to the intersection (if, indeed, they stop at all), then commonly turn right while looking left for vehicles approaching, thus also putting pedestrians on the second crosswalk at significant risk of injury. (Copyright image, 2018.)
In this image are two crosswalks which are painted entirely in bright yellow but the highly inappropriate paint that is used — rather than suitable thermo-plastic with a “high glass-bead-content” — means that at night or in poor-visibility bad weather, they are effectively invisible. The same is commonly true of regular yellow center-line markings and white markings such as “Stop” lines throughout America, too. See: More and Better Crosswalks in the USA Would Save Many Lives for further photos and explanation. (Copyright image, 2017.)
A very common yet entirely unacceptable scenario in the USA: Drivers being allowed to park their vehicles right up to crosswalks, thus blocking the view from pedestrians to drivers and vice versa. The situation is much worse when larger vehicles are involved. See the second photo from the top of this page regarding white zig-zag lines and the important role they fulfill.  Pretending that it is a pedestrian’s fault if s/he walks out in front of a vehicle at a crosswalk would be stunningly inappropriate; after all we have all heard of elderly people with reduced perceptions and reactions, children, disabled people (perhaps in wheelchairs, etc.), people who have had alcohol — many of us will have quite legitimately have crossed roads after a night out! — and so on. (Copyright image, 2017.)
Where enforcement is inadequate some drivers think it is entirely acceptable to park ON crosswalks! (Copyright image, 2017.)
That looks like a good warning sign; it even has flashing, solar-powered LED lights around its black edge to make it more conspicuous. But it is the wrong sign and it is dangerously misleading. The sign shown here means that there is a crosswalk ahead, but now look carefully at the road itself, bottom-left… There’s the nearly invisible crosswalk, right next to the sign which says it isn’t here it’s over the hill! And as can be seen, the white paint of the crosswalk markings is so feint and inconspicuous that it most certainly never was made of the right materials in the first place. And this is right beside a famous Texas university. Will someone try and blame the student if one gets run over and maimed or killed here? Sadly that seems to be a common approach throughout the USA… blame the pedestrian! (Copyright image, 2019.)


So is there any adequate improvement in pedestrian crosswalk facilities in the USA? Well no doubt some of the states are working hard to make things better, though we still urge them to look at the exceptionally targeted variety of crosswalks in Britain, where all eventualities have been addressed — including the physical prevention of jay walking in higher-risk areas. But Britain is by no means alone in having good crosswalks. Amongst other places, Canada has some great designs, too. And just over the border from there, in Western New York, the village of Williamsville appears to be using a Canadian approach for a new, mid-block crosswalk, and it’s good, although the fact that pedestrians have to wait 90 seconds for the lights to change is very disappointing and has recently been seen (in late March 2019) to trigger pedestrians to simply cross without waiting for the lights.

In Williamsville, NY, this excellent mid-block crosswalk has been installed on Main Street. It appears to be similar to some that we have seen when instructing in Ontario. (Copyright image, 2018.)

From Bloomberg on the subject of pedestrian safety (March 22, 2019):
What’s Killing U.S. Pedestrians? Streets That Weren’t Designed for Them

the biggest issue

Nobody is saying that pedestrians are never wrong and never do stupid things; of course they do. But the difference is that pedestrians going dangerously into the path of a vehicle very rarely hurt or kill anyone else. Drivers however, by definition, are in charge of something that can easily kill and they must therefore bear more responsibility. Driving requires a duty of care.

For too long, drivers in America have somehow been deemed to have priority over other road users. It’s not many years, for example, since New York City engineers disconnected all of the “push to walk” buttons at crosswalks so that rush hour traffic could flow with less interruption. Seemingly very little thought was paid to the inconvenience faced by the pedestrians or the many who undoubtedly were hurt or killed when frustration pushed them into crossing at risky moments. (To be fair to New York, though, it is now one of the American cities that are pursuing a Target Zero program — a good way forward.)

None-the-less, from almost 20 years of professional observation and involvement with US road safety, the writer of this article has long been of the opinion that America’s serious failings in this field stem from inappropriate attitudes. This is not just among drivers, who in fairness have never had either adequate or even accurate driver education or training. But bearing in mind these inadequacies, those same drivers include every person who has gone on to work in traffic safety at all levels, including government, and in the absence of a professional hierarchy in the field of safe driving best-practices, it is therefore heartbreakingly obvious that the same old inadequacies and inaccuracies keep on getting regurgitated.

Just as with the GHSA on this occasion, people seem to be very good at discussing the need for applying best practises but then looking inwards instead of outwards for the best solutions. The only significant exception to this that I have seen so far is indeed the Target Zero program which originated in Sweden, and that is an excellent starting point, but even it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Several countries have excelled in road safety for decades — Sweden and Britain being the most consistent leaders, but others are up there too. Please look to them all!

protecting corporate fleets from the REPERCUSIONS of a driver killing or injuring a pedestrian

For corporate fleets there is an important second issue. Apart from the human grief and suffering that hitting a pedestrian or cyclist can cause, there are the serious considerations of financial cost and damaged reputation.

A third issue is eco-friendliness and reducing the costs of maintenance and fuel. You can be assured that we were inherently teaching these aspects long before they ever became buzz-words or the right thing to do, and we always will.

At Advanced Drivers of North America, we are unique in the USA in offering global best practices, together with a research-based approach for the very highest standards of safe driver training. And on the topic of this article, we can also assure you of our unmatched ability to train your staff to provide maximum safety to pedestrians and the other categories of vulnerable road users [VRU]. Contact us for details of our courses.

source of figures

Report from the GHSA:
Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data


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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

One thought on “Far Too Many Pedestrian Deaths on the Roads of the USA, 2018”

  1. You must find it frustrating that each state has different laws operating as if different countries and with no encompassing law for the whole USA. As you mentioned it is the attitude that is one of the most difficult things to change and a growing trend over here in the UK, the self-entitlement brigade with the strapline, ‘I can so I will’.

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