During the pandemic, most safety groups like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) assumed that the number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities would decrease. After all, lockdown restrictions made it so fewer people had fewer reasons to be on the road at any given time, especially as many occupations and schools shifted entirely to remote methods. Yet accident data from across the country showed the opposite: pedestrian accidents actually increased.
For example, in Los Angeles, the LAPD recorded these statistics in 2021:
- 128 fatal pedestrian accidents, up 6% from 2020
- 486 severely injured pedestrians, up 35% from 2020
- Total cyclist deaths up 13% and injuries up 22% from 2020
- Pedestrian fatality rate is 400% of the national average
Half of all trips taken by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are less than three miles one way. With trips being so short, you might expect accident rates would be low. With the opposite being true, though, it suggests that the dangers to pedestrians are not only significant, but they are also almost constant.
Furthermore, the NHTSA tracked that the number of pedestrian deaths increased by 21 percent in 2020. During that first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the total miles traveled by all motorists dropped dramatically. Then why did the rate of pedestrian accidents and fatalities increase so much?
Suspected Causes of Increased Pedestrian Accidents
The phenomenon of increased pedestrian accidents and fatalities juxtaposed with a decrease in overall traffic requires some investigation. Not only is the NHTSA looking into it, but so are safety officials like members of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and members of the medical community.
Several prevailing theories have cropped up, such as:
- Larger cars: Approximately 75% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. in the last few years have not been sedans. Instead, SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans have become popular. The worry is that these larger vehicles pose an increased threat to pedestrians simply by their weight alone. The heavier a vehicle is when it hits someone, the more likely it is to cause a severe injury at any speed. Drivers might also have become more complacent behind the wheel due to the continual additions of vehicle safety features that make it easier to drive but also easier to allow oneself to become distracted.
- More speeding violations: The Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across the country have issued more speeding tickets during the pandemic than in previous years when factoring in the total number of vehicle miles driven. It seems that the emptier roads – which were more prevalent in early 2020 – tempted more reckless drivers to break the speed limit. They might have erroneously thought that a relatively empty street meant it was “safe” to speed. Of course, there is never a safe time to speed, especially when pedestrians are nearby.
- Elderly population growth: Another more macabre theory is that the continued growth of the elderly population might be playing an unexpected role in the rise of fatal and severe pedestrian accidents. Many states and cities saw an increase in the number of senior citizens who have been hurt in pedestrian accidents in the last two years. This might not mean that more pedestrian accidents are happening, but rather that each accident is more likely to cause a catastrophic injury because the odds of the accident involving a senior citizen keep increasing.
What Can Be Done Now?
Decreasing the number of pedestrian accidents to zero each year has to be a priority. But what can be done to make that happen?
The Vision Zero Initiative is a safety campaign that has been adopted by cities around the globe. It focuses on reallocating and raising funds to improve pedestrian safety, such as by building bike lanes and pedestrian segues that cross above busy streets of traffic. Los Angeles has its own Vision Zero plan, which wants to reach zero traffic deaths by 2025. More cities should follow its lead and create a dedicated Vision Zero program with a 10-year completion goal. If this could be done in more places, then pedestrian deaths could start to decline to levels even lower than they were in 2019.
Scott J. Corwin, A Professional Law Corporation in Los Angeles proudly offers legal counsel to people who have been hurt in pedestrian accidents or who lost a loved one in such a crash. Please contact our firm if you need our assistance with a case. You could be owed significant compensation from the party that caused the accident and your damages.