The year 2009 saw the loss of 4,092 lives and 59,000 injuries in pedestrian/motor vehicle related crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While nearly one pedestrian is injured every 9 minutes, these new statistics would still certainly suggest that occurrences of pedestrian accidents are heading towards a continuous downwards trend. It’s a trend that can be attributed to many factors including fewer people choosing to walk, changes in behavior, or to improvements in the education of and awareness of drivers and law enforcement officials.
However, while that is a significant decrease from the 5,228 deaths reported in 1998, and an additional 69,000 injuries, www.walkinginfo.org reports that research and hospital records show that only a “fraction of pedestrian crashes that cause injuries are ever recorded by the police.” My experience as a pedestrian accident lawyer in Atlanta bears these facts out; and more often than not, I find that while incidents are fewer and further in between, the pain associated with them still lingers.
Just this past month, for example, three Clayton County teens were struck and killed by a distracted driver on Highway 138, near I-675. The driver in that instance has been charged with DUI, hit-and-run and other charges after plowing into the group of boys as they walked east in the emergency lane. CBS Atlanta covered the tragic accident, providing updates as the teenagers died within several hours of each other. After finding out about the accident, one of the mother’s immediately rushed to the scene. “I knew my son was involved because I saw his shoes and his hat laying on the ground. I knew because I bought them. How could any human being actually hit not one, not two, but three young teenagers and just leave?” she said.
Unfortunately, such calamities are not a rarity in Atlanta, Georgia. Walking.org notes that almost three out of every four pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas, comprising almost 72 percent of such crashes. Urbanized areas like Atlanta do indeed provide fodder for accidents like this one, especially since downtown areas are dense with both foot and motor vehicle traffic. Between the years of 2001 and 2005, Atlanta experienced a significant growth rate in its population – approximately 15 percent, leading it to be dubbed as one of the worst cities for pedestrian accidents and injuries.
In light of this, the question that most are hard-pressed to answer is how to address this issue. As one solution, a study published on the Website for The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that “built environments” can have a substantial impact on pedestrian safety. More crosswalk signs and better lighting provide pedestrians with more visibility, for instance. But the term “built environment” can refer to many things, including streetscape, road structure and pedestrian structure.
Continued education and increased awareness is yet another tool. This can entail relaying targeted and detailed messages to various audiences such as child, college age, adult and older pedestrians, alcohol consumers and drivers. Walking Info provides a number of tips and messages on their site at www.walkinginfo.org/education/messages.cfm.
In addition, citizens would be wise to acknowledge that walking itself still has its benefits, if one takes proper precautions. It can result in improved health, reduced traffic congestion and save money that would normally be expended on gas and other modes of travel.