Bellingham Washington is well known for its many pedestrian paths. In fact, it's got a pretty high walkable score for its size. We've got lots of college students living here, and not everyone wants the hassle and upkeep of a car. Walking bypasses the traffic snarls and walkers reap the mental and physical health benefits of staying active. Yet those on foot are still at risk of getting into an accident with a car. In fact, according to the CDC, there was one crash related pedestrian death every 1.6 hours in the United States, equating to 5,376 people on foot who were killed by cars. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passengers vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip. Without the protection of the many safety features of modern cars, it's obvious pedestrians fare far worse in a pedestrian vs. vehicle crash.
Who is most at risk?
- Older adults. Because older adults tend to be more frail and take longer to recover from injuries, they are more likely to die in a crash with a car. Pedestrians ages 65 and older accounted for 19% of all pedestrian deaths and an estimated 13% of all pedestrians injured in 2015. This is a sobering fact since folks older than 85 years old are the fastest growing segment of our population, and by 2030 1/5 of every American will be age 65 or older.
- Children. In 2015, one in every five children under the age of 15 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians.
Distracted driving, a growing epidemic, makes it harder for drivers to see pedestrians, especially if they are fast-moving like a child going after a ball. Distracted driving drastically decreases a driver's reaction time, even worse in some scenarios than drunk driving. Also, distracted walking - people on their cell phones - increases the risk of a pedestrian vs. car accident. You might guess what I'm about to say about this... don't walk distracted. Don't drive distracted.
Or drunk. Pedestrians who are alcohol-impaired have a higher chance of a car accident as well.
From the CDC: Almost half (48%) of crashes that resulted in pedestrian deaths involved alcohol for the driver or the pedestrian. One in every three (34%) of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a pedestrian with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) and 15% involved a driver with a BAC of at least 0.08 g/dL.
Additional Risk Factors
Additionally, higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck by a car and the severity of injury. Drivers, don't speed. You'll be faced with more than a ticket if you kill someone walking when you were speeding.
Most pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, non-intersection locations, and at night.
So, you might not be able to control the fact that drivers drive too fast, drunk or distracted, and sometimes you've got to get home on foot when it's dark (especially in winter, when it gets dark before work hours end!) You might be wondering if there is anything you can do to help prevent injuries and deaths that result from getting tangled with cars. Luckily, there is:
- Be visible, especially at night. Carry a flashlight and wear reflective clothing.
- Don't jay walk. Cross with the signal at crosswalks or intersections.
- Walk on a sidewalk or path, but if that's not an option, walk on the shoulder and face the oncoming traffic.
If you want to take a walk on a path where you don't have to share it with cars, check out this trail map from the City of Bellingham.