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The Pedestrian Safety Crisis


A study commissioned by the Governors Highway Safety Association and released recently found that U.S. pedestrian deaths hit a 28-year high last year, rising 4% in just one year and a whopping 35% in ten years to reach 6, 227 fatalities in 2018. The huge increase in pedestrian deaths means that they now account for 16% of all traffic fatalities. While overall traffic deaths have decreased nationwide by 6% from 2008-2017, pedestrian deaths have soared during that same time period. What is particularly alarming is that Georgia is one of five states that accounts for almost half of all pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2018 (the other four states are California, Florida, Arizona and Texas).

Why are overall traffic deaths decreasing while pedestrian deaths increasing? Ironically, one of the reasons is that vehicles are becoming safer—for the people on the inside. Advancements in safety features such as passenger and side airbags, crumple strips, better seat belts and crash-avoidance technologies such as lane-change assists and automatic emergency braking all help to protect vehicle occupants. But these innovations do not protect pedestrians.

The increase in pedestrian deaths correlates strongly with two phenomenon. The first is the spike in smartphone use, beginning in 2009, which is when pedestrian deaths began rising. Distracted driving and distracted walking factor into the dramatic increase in pedestrian deaths in the decade since the smartphone has become ubiquitous. The other phenomenon is the greater number of SUVs on the road. The number of pedestrian deaths involving SUVs rose by 50% from 2013-2017; pedestrians are simply less likely to survive being hit by such large vehicles than they are when hit by a car.

An additional reason for increased pedestrian deaths noted by the study is related to infrastructure. Urban sprawl into areas and on roads not designed for walkers is leading to more pedestrian deaths. Suburbs that lack sidewalks and roads that lack proper shoulders are increasingly being walked on as people walk to work or other destinations, whether by choice or necessity.


If technology can help protect people on the inside of vehicles, can it be used to protect people on the outside? In other words, can technological innovations protect pedestrians??

The answer is yes, and below are five ways in which automakers and public planners and policy makers can reverse the trend of rising pedestrian deaths:

1. Make automatic emergency braking standard in all new vehicles by 2022: German supplier Bosch has developed a system that uses radar and cameras to detect pedestrians and cyclists within a 20 meter radius and deploy automatic emergency braking.

2. Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication: Short-range wireless sensors mounted on poles or boom arms along the road signal drivers if pedestrians are in the road ahead, even if they are around the corner and out of view.

3. Advanced infotainment systems: To avoid distraction and the need for a driver to take his or her eyes off the road to access information and entertainment, automakers are developing augmented-reality systems that would project directions onto the windshield.

4. Improved headlights: Not entirely high-tech, simply improving headlights would brighten the area ahead of a vehicle by automatically controlling light dispersal to reduce glare and help drivers see better, thereby improving pedestrian safety.

5. Fully self-driving systems: Companies developing the artificial intelligence systems tout them as being safer than a vehicle driven by a human, and that once autonomous vehicles take over the roads, traffic fatalities will be negligible. However, the Uber crash in Tempe, Arizona, last year in which a self-driving vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian illustrates just how difficult it is to replace the human element. Although a human operator was on board, she was watching an episode of “The Voice” on her smartphone, not paying attention and perhaps mistakenly believing that the vehicle’s self-driving system was capable of handling all situations. However, Uber did not program the system to alert the human operator to manually brake the vehicle. If the emergency braking system had been activated, it would have been triggered 1.3 seconds before the car hit the pedestrian.

There is much debate over whether self-driving cars will have the ability to “react” to a situation like a pedestrian suddenly appearing in the road; algorithms may only go so far. For now, some self-driving technology—emergency braking, collision avoidance systems, driver drowsiness detection, night vision systems—are being incorporated into or made available with current vehicles.


If you or someone you know has been injured in a traffic-related accident, contact Dave Thomas at the Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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