Why are Pedestrian Accidents Increasing During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
July 23, 2020
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the number of pedestrians killed in the United States has been increasing steadily for over a decade. Experts expect this trend to continue, particularly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted the closure of gyms and other indoor recreational facilities. As more people turn to walking and jogging for exercise, motorists and pedestrians alike can benefit from heightened awareness of pedestrian safety precautions.
Why Have Pedestrian Deaths Been on the Rise?
No one is exactly sure what is causing the decade-long rise in pedestrian deaths. Experts theorize that there may be several factors involved, including the following:
- The increase in motorists on the roads
- The growing popularity of heavy-weight vehicles, including pickup trucks and SUVs
- The use of Fitbits and other devices that enable walkers to track their steps
- The increase of smart phone-use by both pedestrians and drivers
There were 6,590 U.S. pedestrian deaths in 2019, representing a five percent increase from 2018. In addition to the rise in pedestrian fatalities across the country, the GHSA is currently predicting a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.0 per 100,000 population for 2020, representing the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the U.S. since 1997. The state of Pennsylvania is not immune to this deadly trend. In 2018, Pennsylvania recorded one of the highest pedestrian fatality counts in the U.S., ranking seventh nationwide.
Pandemic Prompts More Outdoor Exercise
Information from various safety organizations, including the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), indicate that there are more pedestrians now than before the Coronavirus became widespread in March. Several factors can be cited to explain why the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more people to walk, including the following:
- Gym closures
- Guidance from health authorities
- More people working from home
- Apprehension about the use of mass transit
- Closures of city streets to traffic
Approximately 45 million people in the U.S. pay for gym memberships. In many states, gyms have been closed for some time. Those that are open typically require the use of face masks and social distancing, which significantly alters group fitness classes and socializing in the locker room. Fewer people are venturing to reopened gyms, leading several large chains to file for bankruptcy, including 24-Hour Fitness and Gold’s Gym. However, people still need to exercise.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages people to walk outside. Americans appear to be following that advice and are taking to the streets, sidewalks, and parks. In addition, employees who were either laid off, given reduced hours, or told to work from home have more time to go outside. City dwellers who previously used public transportation to go across town are shunning crowded spaces and opting to walk when they can. Many cities have also permanently closed some streets to motor vehicle traffic, encouraging use by pedestrians and bicyclists, according to an article published by Yale University. New York City has banned motor vehicles from approximately 50 miles of streets and plans to double that amount going forward. Philadelphia, Denver, and Minneapolis are also looking into similar initiatives.
What Risks Do Pedestrians Face?
Pedestrians may be facing greater risks today from auto accidents, even though there are less drivers on the road. During the first three months of 2020, there was an 88 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities in Philadelphia compared to the year before, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
The GHSA notes that there has been an increase in speeding and reckless driving since the pandemic began. Some drivers on the road seem more impatient than before the pandemic, possibly owing to frustration of being under lockdown restrictions for so long. In a review of motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents in Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia identified several ways in which city traffic can present deadly risks to pedestrians, including the following:
- Pedestrian intoxication
- Speeding cars
- Vehicles running red lights
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted studies to determine the most common scenarios in which pedestrian fatalities occur, listed in order of frequency:
- Vehicle going straight as a pedestrian crosses the road
- Vehicle going straight with a pedestrian in the road
- Vehicle going straight with a pedestrian adjacent to the road
- Vehicle turning left as a pedestrian crosses the road
- Vehicle turning right as a pedestrian crosses the road
Collectively, these scenarios account for more than 90 percent of fatal pedestrian accidents. The NHTSA has reviewed these scenarios as part of a plan to develop pedestrian detection systems. Other initiatives for reducing the number of pedestrian fatalities include slow zones, which use speed bumps and other road design features to slow down speeding vehicles.
What can Pedestrians Do to Help Avoid Serious Accidents?
Pedestrians can help avoid serious accidents by adhering to the adage to see and be seen, which includes the following:
- Looking out for motorists. Pedestrians should avoid the temptation to talk on the phone whenever walking along a roadway or crossing the street. Staying continually alert to immediate surroundings is imperative to staying safe.
- Making eye contact with drivers. When crossing a road, pedestrians should make eye contact with motorists first.
- Being attentive. Turning down music can help pedestrians hear as well as see traffic coming.
- Watching alcohol intake. Nearly one-half of all pedestrian accidents involve alcohol. Of those that do, pedestrians were impaired or intoxicated about 30 percent of the time.
- Obeying traffic signs. Pedestrians should stay in crosswalks, watch traffic signals, and obey all applicable traffic rules. Jaywalking pedestrians may be held liable in an accident.
- Looking both ways before crossing. This is simple advice, but it is often ignored.
- Making sure to be seen. Pedestrians need to stay visible by wearing bright clothing and walking in well-lit areas.
Wherever possible, walkers should use paths, trails, and sidewalks instead of the street. If that is not possible, it is best to walk facing oncoming traffic.
What Additional Precautions Should Pedestrians Take During the Pandemic?
The risk of contracting COVID-19 is present no matter the location. The following are a few additional guidelines that pedestrians can follow to stay safe during the pandemic:
- Wear a face mask, positioning it so that it does not impair vision
- Carry hand sanitizer
- Carry a cell phone, but do not use it while walking
- Drink plenty of water before heading out for a walk
- To avoid the need to stop, take extra snacks or water if a long walk is anticipated
- Bring gloves, as well as a face mask and hand sanitizer, if planning on stopping at a public restroom
Walking outside is one of the best forms of exercise, especially during a time when citizens are being asked to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. Following simple precautions can help pedestrians avoid accidents while enjoying the outdoors.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Advocate for Victims Injured in Pedestrian Accidents
When serious accidents occur, the Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP bring more than seven decades of experience and knowledge to help injured clients rebuild their lives and regain their health and well-being. If you were injured and are seeking qualified legal representation, we invite you to call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. We are equipped to conduct free virtual consultations during the pandemic to ensure your safety. We take pride providing the highest level of service to our clients. Our offices are located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.