U.S. pedestrians died in increased record numbers last year. The 6,590 pedestrian deaths in 2019 in the U.S. made it the deadliest year since 1992. Will these numbers shrink in 2020 because of the stay at home requirements caused by COVID-19? Also, San Francisco, Oakland and other cities are increasing pedestrian zones and not allowing motor vehicles on certain streets reserved only for pedestrians. Will this result in fewer pedestrian deaths?
Pedestrian accidents in San Francisco were increasing sharply in 2019. Every 15 hours on average, someone was taken to San Francisco General Hospital after being hit. In 2014, the City set its Vision Zero goal of ending traffic fatalities by 2024. In 2014, 471 people were severely injured in City traffic with 106 critically injured. In 2018 that number rose to 592 severe injuries.
There are several possible contributors to the rising death toll. More people are walking for exercise and pedestrian deaths begin to climb as the number of smart phone users grew from 50 million in 2009 to 285 million in 2018 in the U.S. More than 2,000 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2018 when they were “drunk walking,” i.e. a blood alcohol level over 0.08 per cent. In San Francisco traffic deaths soared as enforcement decreased. The S.F. Chronicle learned that the San Francisco Police Department was ticketing far fewer drivers for illegal behavior while driving than it did in 2014.
Vision Zero centers around the “three e’s”, educating users about safe behavior, engineering safe streets, and enforcement by police officers. Last year the San Francisco Police Department issued almost 75,000 fewer tickets than 5 years before. Vision Zero directs the Police Department to focus its enforcement on the 5 most dangerous driving behaviors: speeding, failing to stop at a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign, failing to give pedestrians the right of way and failing to yield to pedestrians while turning.
The speed of the vehicle in a crash is the primary factor in causing deaths. A vehicle that hits a pedestrian at 40 mph will result in a death 80 percent of the time. At 30 mph, 4 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed. Safer driving behavior and stronger law enforcement will help reduce pedestrian deaths.
During the “stay at home orders” in 2020, there is far less traffic on the streets with large reductions in the number of vehicles and pedestrians. Hopefully, this will result in a significant reduction in severe pedestrian accidents.
Lew Van Blois is an attorney representing pedestrian accident victims in the Bay Area and in Northern California. Best Lawyers publication awarded him the Top Personal Injury Lawyer of the year for 2020 in Northern California.