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What we can learn from last year's spike in pedestrian deaths

2016 was a rough year for pedestrians. More pedestrians were killed than any other year in the past quarter-century, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Seniors age 65 and older are at greater risk of getting struck by cars. So, too, are children. Many of these accidents occur in crosswalks, where pedestrians have the right-of-way.

Surprisingly, even though people get struck by cars far more often in crowded downtown centers, nearly twice as many fatalities happen in the suburbs. Wider roads, faster speeds and fewer traffic controls might contribute to higher death rates.

Understanding what contributes to deadly collisions

How do we keep pedestrians safer in 2017? For starters, drivers and pedestrians alike should understand what contributes to these accidents. Below are some of the most common factors.

1. Distracted driving

Cellphone use behind the wheel can lead to deadly consequences. Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in Minnesota, many drivers still do it. Even talking on the phone can increase your risk of an accident - as can other forms of inattention. In fatal accident cases, drivers often claim they didn't see the pedestrian, when, in reality, they just weren't paying attention.

As a pedestrian, whenever you're crossing the street, you should never assume drivers can see you. There's a good chance they might be distracted. Always make eye contact with oncoming drivers, and proceed with caution.

2. Alcohol

Drunk driving is a big factor when it comes to deadly accidents. It contributes to roughly 15 percent of fatal pedestrian accidents nationwide, according to the CDC.

So, too, is intoxication among pedestrians. In 2015, one-third of the pedestrians killed by cars had blood alcohol levels over .10 percent.

Drivers should never get behind the wheel if there's any doubt about their sobriety. Likewise, pedestrians should take extra care when they've been drinking.

3. Speeding

Speeding both increases the risk of accidents and increases the severity of injuries. When drivers are going too fast, their ability to spot pedestrians is jeopardized, as is their ability to stop in time.

Looking ahead

We're all pedestrians at one time or another, and many of us are also drivers. In both of these roles, we should be conscientious about reducing the risk of accidents. Hopefully, by making safety our No. 1 priority, the alarming number of pedestrian deaths in 2016 will be fluke and not a trend.

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