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Why Are Pedestrian Road Deaths Surging In The US?

Update Date: Apr 01, 2019 10:16 PM EDT
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National pedestrian death rates are surging across the United States, having soared to historic heights in recent years despite the efforts of many urban areas to render roads safer. With the rise of new technologies like autonomous vehicles and sensory-laden roadways, pedestrian deaths should be easier than ever before to mitigate, yet these new innovations are proving to provide just as many challenges as they are solutions when it comes to avoiding pedestrian deaths.

What are the root causes of the pedestrian death surge in the US, and what can be done to reverse it? Here's why pedestrians are dying in greater numbers, and how authorities are responding to the crisis.

Tech is a blessing and a curse

When it comes to saving lives and preventing accidents, technology is both a blessing and a curse. This is because certain developments, like better sensory equipment that ensure cars can avoid collisions and streetlights that can determine by themselves when to turn on, are more useful than others like smartphones, which distract drivers and pedestrians alike. To tackle the surge in road-related deaths amongst pedestrians, we need to harness the better aspects of technology while leaving the worst behind us in the past.

Road deaths in the US have recently surged to a three-decade high, which should illustrate the severity of the problem we now face. There are many reasons that more pedestrians are dying than ever before, but the plague of distracted driving is one of the more serious elements of the ongoing crisis that's yet to be addressed effectively. With smartphones now a normal facet of everyday life, it's becoming impossible to get drivers to look at the road instead of the screen in their hand when they go out for groceries or to get to work.

Similarly, crumbling infrastructure is a problem familiar to many regardless of which part of the nation they call home. Civil engineers across the nation give US infrastructure a D+ when assessing its structural longevity and health, which is indicative of how huge a spending problem we face when it comes to repairing the nation's roads and bridges. Summoning the money and political will needed to rebuild our infrastructure is proving to be much harder than many aspiring politicians and civil engineers imagined, and it's unclear if our infrastructure crisis is going to be solved anytime soon, much to the detriment of pedestrian lives.

Some cars are more dangerous than others

Changing consumer patterns in the purchasing of cars could also be part of the reason that more pedestrians are dying now than in the previous few decades. The larger number of SUVs on the road, for instance, means that the average car has a higher rollover rate than previously. Larger cars make some drivers feel safer, but they're often more prone to suddenly rolling over and getting into collisions in the first place thanks to their large blind spots. The Governors Highway Safety Association recently determined that fatalities involving an SUV rose by a whopping 50 percent from 2013 to 2017, for instance, resulting in 2 million injuries, so it's likely these larger cars are proving to be a real threat to public health.

Distracted drivers being everywhere you look is also a sure sign that you're in an environment dangerous to pedestrians. Drivers aren't the only ones staring at their smartphones, however; pedestrian jaywalkers are literally wandering into oncoming traffic thanks to the fact that they're distracted with a text message or game on their phone, for instance. The overall increase in digital stimuli we've undergone as a species lately has made us more likely to wander into danger without looking both ways.

Finally, we could be seeing more pedestrian road deaths simply because population figures are surging. In states where the overall population was growing, for instance, more traffic fatalities were reported. Thus, while it may seem like as if Texas, Arizona, and Florida have more dangerous roadways it could simply be that they have more people driving in the first place. Tech companies and government officials alike are scrambling to address the ongoing public health crisis, and it's safe to say that new innovations will keep coming forward over the next few years to mitigate pedestrian deaths.

The rise of auto-braking technology as a standard across the automotive industry stands as one promising sign of what's to come. Similarly, embedding sensors in our roadways and bridges will help us detect infrastructure decay before it even occurs, enabling us to bolster the quality of our public works. Not all technological developments stand to claim more lives than they save. There are many reasons that pedestrian road deaths are surging across the US, but there are also reasons to be optimistic about the future of transportation as we get to work saving lives and making roads safer for everyone.

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