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Book on pedestrian fatalities walks readers through myths, solutions

On Behalf of | Sep 25, 2020 | Pedestrian Accidents

With Halloween approaching, children are already pondering the most frightening costumes for the occasion. For Cincinnati-area parents, the scariest part of the celebration comes from the National Safety Council:  “Children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year.”

Of course, Halloween isn’t the only scary day for pedestrians, no matter their ages. Annual pedestrian fatalities have risen more than 50 percent over the past decade. The dramatic increase in fatal pedestrian accidents has taken place even though overall traffic fatalities have decreased.

Busting a myth

When author Angie Schmitt would tell people she was penning a book about the reason for the rise (titled Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America), people often thought they could explain the phenomenon.

“Cellphones,” Schmitt said. “It’s always cellphones.”

People believed that distracted pedestrians gazing at their phones were responsible for the crashes. That’s why Schmitt walks readers through a variety of factors involved in the increase, all while busting the myth of distracted pedestrians causing their own deaths.

For instance, Schmitt points out the increase in pedestrians killed after dark while crossing mid-block – an unlikely crossing spot for someone gaping at their Facebook page on their phone.

Convergence of trends

Schmitt points to a merging of trends responsible for the increase: the omnipresence of distracted drivers, growth in vehicle size and weight, drivers going faster, streets getting wider and the growing popularity of suburbs and Sun Belt cities that lack public transit.

According to a recent article about the book, Schmitt also notes the significance of another factor in the sharp rise: “the pedestrians who die are disproportionately Black, brown, low income or over 65.”

A matter of priorities

Schmitt said, “it’s a lot about power and whose needs are being prioritized.” The needs of people commuting to and from work, and to and from shopping areas are prioritized, she said, “not the lower-income folks who are waiting for the bus. When their interests come in conflict with the people in power, they won’t be prioritized.”

Schmitt – a former editor of Streetsblog – says better urban design choices would help reverse the trend: “road diets” that narrow traffic lanes, better crosswalks, median islands on which pedestrians can safely pause, and others.

Grim statistics – and positive actions

She also points out that in the U.S., every week 50 kids are injured or killed in backover crashes (low-speed collisions in which the vehicle is backing up). Because most of these are in driveways and parking lots, they’re not part of government crash data.