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Are pedestrians at a greater risk for injury than drivers?

Many people may think pedestrians are at a lower risk for injury if they decide to walk instead of drive. The risk of getting into a car accident may lead travelers to consider if they are close enough to their destination to make it there and back on foot.

Unfortunately, car accidents are still a relevant danger for pedestrians. In fact, their risk may be higher than we might initially expect.

The annual Governors Highway Safety Association report revealed that over 6,000 pedestrians died in traffic accidents last year. This is the highest number of fatalities in almost 30 years. In the past 10 years alone, fatalities jumped 30 percent.

Is infrastructure to blame?

While big cities appear to pose the greatest risk to pedestrians, smaller metropolitan areas are not immune. For example, in Macon, Ga. – which has a population of 111,000 – one in every 8,000 residents died in a pedestrian accident in 2018.

Some people point to population growth, which can increase activity like jaywalking, as a cause for the uptick. However, some believe the real culprit is city infrastructure.

Tom Ellington, chair of Macon's Pedestrian Safety Review Board, believes their city’s transportation system is designed for cars instead of people, and that is why traffic fatalities are rising. He says Macon has two-mile gaps between crosswalks in many parts of the city.

Distracted travelers

Richard Retting, who authored the report, said infrastructure isn’t entirely to blame, as sidewalks didn’t reduce at the same speed fatalities increased. However, in that time period, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have increased in market share, which are more likely to cause a fatality than a car.

Additionally, more individuals – drivers and pedestrians alike – are using their cell phones. Cell data use increased by 4,000 percent between both walkers and drivers since 2008.

Achilleas Kourtellis, assistant program director at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, noted that bad driver behavior in general is more likely to cause an accident with a pedestrian. In Florida, most accidents involve distracted drivers whether the distraction was a phone or other bad behavior, such as eating or applying makeup.

Regardless of the cause, pedestrians are still at risk of a serious injury even if they aren’t behind the wheel.

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