In late October last year, a pedestrian was killed in Marietta while crossing the intersection of South Marietta Parkway and Aviation Road. While tragic, pedestrian deaths are all too common and on the rise. In fact, a nationwide report found that in 2019, pedestrian deaths in the United States hit their highest level since 1988, with an estimated 6,590 pedestrians killed in traffic accidents. Further mirroring national trends, the Marietta pedestrian death occurred during darkness, more than two hours before sunrise. The death also highlighted national trends, as roughly one in five pedestrian deaths in the U.S. occur in intersections.
Walking Near Vehicular Traffic is a Dangerous Proposition
Let’s face it, walking along a roadway – let alone crossing one – can be a hazardous proposition. In 2017, an estimated 137,000 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms following traffic accidents. There is no telling how many did not seek ER treatment. Given the estimated 6,590 pedestrian traffic deaths in 2019, which is up from 2017, it is reasonable to believe that traffic injuries to pedestrians that were treated in emergency rooms also increased from 2017. Based on 2017 statistics, pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident, per trip, than are passenger vehicle occupants.
Georgia is not exactly a pedestrian-safe zone, either. Five states in 2019 accounted for nearly half of all pedestrian deaths nationwide, tallying 47% of all pedestrian traffic fatalities. Georgia, which has the eighth-largest population among all states, was the fifth state on that list.
Pedestrian Traffic Injuries are a Serious Problem
The pedestrian death toll for 2019 was up 5% from 2018, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, which annually provides the first estimate of traffic-related deaths, including pedestrian deaths. The report estimates that pedestrians will account for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019, up from 12% 10 years before. Other traffic deaths are up only 2% over the same time period.
Current trends, which have held steady for a decade, show pedestrian deaths on the way to accounting for one in five traffic fatalities. Like the recent pedestrian death in Marietta, about 20% of pedestrian traffic fatalities happen at intersections. However, the overwhelming majority do not. In fact, the GHSA report suggests that there are a number of factors driving the increase in pedestrian traffic deaths, including:
- The vast majority of pedestrian deaths happen on local roads, at night, and not at intersections.
- Speeding, distracted driving, and drowsy driving continue to contribute disproportionately to pedestrian fatalities, as does drunk driving, responsible for nearly half of all pedestrian traffic deaths in 2018.
- A pedestrian who is hit by a large SUV is twice as likely to die as a pedestrian who is hit by a passenger car.
Setting aside the rise in pedestrian traffic deaths, non-fatal pedestrian traffic accidents pose a higher risk of serious injury than for vehicle passengers involved in a traffic accident. For example, pedestrians involved in traffic accidents run a higher risk for traumatic brain injuries. Studies have found that head injuries are among the most common injuries to pedestrians who are injured in traffic accidents. Further, federal statistics indicate traffic accidents involving pedestrians are among the leading causes of brain injury-related hospitalizations and deaths.