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Why are pedestrian fatalities rising in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Jul 8, 2022 | Personal injury

A recent preliminary report by the Governors Highway Safety Association showcased a worrisome statistic. According to the report, pedestrian deaths increased by 21% in 2021 as compared to the year before. Non-pedestrian fatalities rose 13% in the same period.

In one respect, this alarming increase was part of bigger trends. Overall traffic fatalities have been on the rise as well, and marked their highest number in 16 years in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, it seems striking that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents outpaced other traffic-related fatalities in Pennsylvania.

Safety advocates and lawmakers are trying to figure out what’s going on with pedestrian safety. They have several theories.

Unusual times

Before we discuss the theories, it’s important to note that the recent statistics come from a couple of highly unusual years. In 2020, an unprecedented crisis led many people to work from home and limit their travel. This presented a sudden change in the amount of driving that year, which was reflected in the statistics.

Estimating the amount of driving on the state’s roads, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation calculated that  vehicles in Pennsylvania traveled 102.8 billion miles within the state in 2020. The same year, the state recorded 1,129 traffic deaths. This meant the DOT recorded about 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This was the lowest fatality rate recorded since Pennsylvania started keeping records in 1935.

Given that background, it’s understandable that fatalities would rise in 2021. As the economy slowly started reviving and people started resuming their old driving habits, it makes sense that accidents and fatalities would increase.

However, this does not explain why pedestrian deaths appear to be increasing more quickly than other traffic deaths.

Larger vehicles

Researchers say there are probably many reasons behind the increased dangers for pedestrians in Pennsylvania. One is that more people are living in suburbs and exurbs where, compared to cities, roadway design is less pedestrian-friendly. But cities and pedestrian-friendly roadway features don’t always help. Statistics from 2019 show that 44% of pedestrian deaths occurred in crosswalks and 47% were in cities.

Another leading theory lays the blame on the popularity of SUVs and large pickup trucks. These vehicles are higher up than many sedans, which can interfere with a driver’s ability to see pedestrians. They’re also much heavier, meaning that a collision with a pedestrian carries more force.

Cars and trucks today have many safety features that can protect the occupants in a crash, but pedestrians have no such protection. If a pedestrian is struck by a heavy SUV or truck at even a moderate speed, they are highly likely to suffer serious injury.

It’s personal

Statistics and big trends can seem very far away, but when a pedestrian or bicycle accident happens to you or someone you love, it’s all very personal. You will face massive medical expenses and other losses. To learn about how the law many apply to their case, the injured and their families can speak with an attorney who has experience in personal injury law.