Children and the Elderly Most at Risk among Pedestrian Deaths

Every once in awhile, a local news story crops up explaining yet again that Atlanta is one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the United States. But what’s worse is that, much more often, we see news stories detailing the death of a pedestrian. Last week, the AJC reported on two incidents, one that ended well and another that ended in tragedy, with a 62 year old man who was simply walking along a busy street added to the approximately 5,700 pedestrian deaths that occur in the United States every year.

Thankfully, the other incident, involving two young children aged 7 and 10 who were crossing Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in northwest Atlanta, ended in a better outcome, with both children treated and found to be awake and alert at the scene.

The fact remains thought pedestrian deaths are the second leading cause of motor vehicle related fatalities, accounting for about 13% of all motor vehicle related deaths. Though the rate of pedestrian deaths has fallen since 1975, it is estimated that a pedestrian in the United States is killed every 101 minutes. And the groups that are most at risk are the ones we just read about – children and the elderly. Children make up about 23% of the United States’ population, but account for 30% of pedestrian deaths. The elderly (usually characterized as people over 70) make up 20% of all pedestrian deaths.

Pedestrians who have been drinking alcohol are also at elevated risk for being struck and injured or killed, and likely contribute to the fact that more pedestrian related motor vehicle accidents occur on Friday and Saturday than any other days of the week.

So what causes pedestrian fatalities and why are some of the most vulnerable members of our society prone to these tragedies? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the causes of pedestrian fatalities are complex. Poor roadway design, lack of lighting, lack of sidewalks or crosswalks, and a lax enforcement of traffic laws can all combine to lead to pedestrian accidents. In fact, statistics have shown that improvements in all of these areas are much of the reason that pedestrian deaths have decreased since their peak in the 1970’s.

Other interesting pedestrian incident related statistics include where they are located. A full sixty nine percent of pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas while 79% occur outside intersections. Ninety percent of pedestrian fatalities occur under normal weather conditions, and 64% occur at night.

A much higher number of pedestrian deaths than the NHTSA researchers suspected occur between midnight and 6am, indicating that these 18% of deaths are probably due to drinking.

Advocates of pedestrian safety fault the federal government for focusing their anti-pedestrian accident efforts merely on buckling up and decreasing alcohol use.

Said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents states on highway safety issues in a 2003 article, "Better lighting, better walkways, flashing lights at intersections can make a difference - and education in schools.”

With that in mind, stay tuned to this spot for more what drivers and pedestrians need to know about pedestrian safety.