As most are aware of by now, Syracuse University’s head basketball coach Jim Boeheim had just a second or two to try to swerve and avoid hitting a car that had stalled out in the middle of a Syracuse highway last weekend, and he was unable to avoid hitting the car’s driver, who had left his vehicle and tried to cross the busy freeway.
The deadly result of that accident is just one of hundreds of pedestrian accidents that have occurred so far this year. It is part of a rising number of accidents that result in pedestrian fatalities. Over the past decade alone, the number of pedestrians who have been killed in traffic accidents has risen by almost 50 percent. Nationally, about 6,000 pedestrians die in accidents every year, but that number rises every year.
There is Hope in Technology
Over the past few years, a lot of new technology has been implemented that is showing real promise for reducing the increasing number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians, and we are very happy for that.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) see a lot of hope in digital safety systems that are capable of spotting pedestrians in range of the vehicle and applying a vehicle’s brakes automatically. They are hopeful that these safety systems can prevent many pedestrian collisions and also reduce the severity of many others. The IIHS is openly encouraging automakers to include pedestrian detection systems in most models of new vehicles, along with automatic braking systems that should assist drivers with avoiding accidents. They are also engaging in consumer education efforts to encourage car buyers to look for these new safety systems when they shop for a new vehicle.
The IIHS has been studying these systems for a while and, in addition to these high-tech safety systems, their latest study also recommends updating automotive lighting systems and regulations for the first time since the 1970s. Improved lighting systems would allow drivers to see a lot more, which would give them more time to react.
Federal Regulators Also Trying to Help
Late last year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a gathering of numerous safety and industry experts as a way to assess the problem or pedestrian fatalities and to discover possible methods for addressing the problem. NTSB pointed out a number of related issues, such as increased urbanization and increased drug use, and they released a list of recommendations aimed at resolving the problem. They and several other safety advocacy groups, however, noted that there is no universal solution to the issue, so there would have to be many measures taken to keep pedestrians safer.
The NTSB seemed to concur with the IIHS contention that vehicle lighting systems had to be updated, with the agency noting that the current rules in place are “very old.” They recommended allowing manufacturers to design headlights that are optimized to allow the driver to better see what’s ahead.
Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun the rulemaking process to allow the use of lighting technology that is in wide use in Europe, but which is banned here, such as Adaptive Driving Beams (ADB). These beams don’t require the driver to flip back and forth between high beams and low beams, but instead, these systems use sensors to switch between them, while also masking out some of the light to prevent blinding those ahead. ADB headlighting systems can light up the body of a person in the road ahead without pointing the light at the head and blinding them, and they can also light the road ahead without blinding drivers headed in the other direction.
Why Are There So Many Pedestrian Accidents?
According to experts, there are a number of likely reasons for the troublesome increase in pedestrian fatalities in recent years. Among the most common are:
- Increasing populations, meaning more vehicles on the road;
- More distractions, especially smartphones and other electronics;
- Changes in cannabis regulations;
- Crumbling infrastructure.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Texas has 28 million people living within its borders and, as of 2017, the state was 13th in the nation in pedestrian fatalities. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) notes that driver distraction is the second-most cited factor when it comes to all accidents in the state as of 2017, right behind excessive speed.
TxDOT also noted that the most dangerous day for pedestrians statewide is Saturday. This was true even though Saturday morning featured the lowest number of accidents in a typical week because Saturday evening balanced things out, being the most dangerous time of the week for those on foot.
How Can We Prevent Pedestrian Accidents?
The most obvious thing everyone can all do is to obey traffic signals. That doesn’t just mean the drivers, but the walkers, as well. Texas law requires pedestrians to always obey traffic signals, including those showing “wait”, “walk”, or “don’t walk” signals. Here are some other tips for pedestrians:
- Make your actions predictable by not simply darting into the street, even in an intersection, when traffic is nearby.
- Always walk with extra caution and make yourself as visible as possible, especially at dawn or dusk or in conditions with low visibility.
- Avoid distractions when walking. That means, put away the smartphone or the tablet and pay attention to your surroundings.
- The same goes for when you are crossing the street. Don’t stare at the phone, tablets and pay attention.
- Try to walk with other people, especially at night.
- Anticipate every driver’s actions before they do something.
- Never try to out-duel or outrun a motor vehicle.
Likewise, drivers can do their part to keep pedestrians safe:
- Reduce your speed and obey all posted traffic warnings.
- Use signals so that pedestrians know you are turning.
- Use hand communication and make eye contact with a pedestrian to make sure you both are aware of each other
- Drive with additional caution in urban areas and intersections with a lot of foot traffic
- Stop before your vehicle is in the crosswalk.
It’s good that technology is helping reduce pedestrian-involved accidents, but we can all do our part to help in the meantime.