Why Are So Many Pedestrians Getting Killed in Our Roads?

seniors waiting to cross street

46 pedestrians were killed by cars in The City of Toronto, where I live, in 2016 so far, the worst carnage since 2003. Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail looks at some of the reasons in Deadly year for pedestrians in Toronto a wake-up call to improve road safety, most of which we have discussed in TreeHugger this year, so this is sort of a roundup, building on Moore’s article. He gets the popular excuse out of the way fast:

The city is growing, but much of the additional population is being added downtown, where walking is most common but also safest. Pedestrians being distracted by their phones appears unlikely to be behind the rise. Research in the United States found that pedestrians’ use of an electronic device was a factor in only 0.1 per cent of people killed while walking over five years.

This has to be said up front these days, with so many jurisdictions talking about banning “distracted walking” where they claim pedestrians are not moving quickly, looking around constantly and listening carefully. I have tried (unsuccessfully, judging from comments) to make the case that there are all kinds of people like that, and that distracted walking is a proxy for a much bigger issue:

The main argument I have against those who would regulate distracted walking is that there are a lot of people, the very young and the old, who cannot be ready to leap out of the way, who walk more slowly and erratically, who do not hear very well. They often are looking down at the pavement for trip hazards instead of straight ahead. They are doing exactly what those accused of distracted walking are doing, and there are going to be more of them every day. Are they going to get banned too?

Or as Brad Aaron of Streetsblog has noted,

"If your transport system has zero tolerance for anyone who isn’t a fit adult, the system is the problem, and ... By casting blame elsewhere you assume everyone is like you — can see, hear, walk perfectly. Arrogant & extremely unhelpful.”

Globe and Mail
It's all because of smartphones? Right. Globe and Mail scan

Of course, every time I write about this, people come up with their own anecdotes of how someone just jumped out in front of them while looking at their phones. Which gives me the opportunity to insert my favourite anti-anecdote tweet of the year:

It's seniors who are getting killed, and they are not snapchatting

moore tweet

Oliver Moore Tweet/Screen capture Nothing is going to be gained by demanding that everyone be fit, looking around like a scared animal, ready to jump out of the way. Because as Oliver Moore also notes:

An aging population is more fragile and tends to suffer greater damage if hit. In Toronto this year, 67 per cent of the pedestrians who were killed were over 65.
aging population

© UMTRI It’s not the kids looking at their phones who are getting killed; it is the older people who are much slower getting across the road, and who tend to die at a far higher rate when they are hit. I wrote about this at length on MNN, looking at what happens to our vision, hearing and our bodies as we age in Complaining about walking while texting is like complaining about walking while old.

Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get rid of them

©. AutoEvolution/ what the market wants

© AutoEvolution/ what the market wants Moore picks up another point we have discussed:

The increase in larger vehicles such as SUVs, which sit higher and are more likely to kill when someone is struck, may be partly to blame.
statistics on deaths

© New Scientist

This is in fact a huge issue. The proportion of vehicles sold that are pickups and SUVs (both classed as Light Truck Vehicles or LTVs) has increased year after year. Where cars are designed to reduce pedestrian injury, SUVs and pickups are like walls. Naomi Buck wrote in the Globe and Mail:

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute have concluded that a pedestrian hit by an LTV (light truck vehicle, which includes minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs) is more than three times more likely to be killed than one hit by a car – less due to the vehicle’s greater mass than due to its height and the design of its front end.

To make SUVs and pickups as safe as cars, they would need radical design changes, with much lower, sloping front ends. But as one engineer noted in the New Scientist, “this won’t be popular with SUV buyers who like their rugged, off-road look.”
Poor things. It really is time to Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get rid of them, or licence as work vehicles with special training and tougher examinations. Or perhaps they should just be banned.

How can we design cars to reduce distracted driving?

tesla dashboard

© Tesla Dashboard/ no distractions here. Finally, Moore lists distracted driving.

Another possible factor is drivers’ use of electronic devices. This has proliferated in recent years – despite higher fines – and some police have taken to calling distracted driving “the new drunk driving.”
Insurance Journal

Insurance Journal/via

However I was shocked recently to read about some studies by insurance companies about what were the biggest sources of distraction, and the fact is, by far the biggest distraction is people just not paying attention, daydreaming, being “lost in thought.” It is again, I believe, a design issue; driving is boring, and we have turned cars into rolling living rooms with seating like comfy sofas. Manufacturers have surrounded drivers with entertainment systems and advertise how smooth and quiet the ride is; The cars are designed to coddle us instead of keeping us alert. It is no wonder that drivers are not paying attention.

What is Vision Zero? It’s about a complete change of mindset

vision zero people are part of the equation

Vision Zero/Screen capture Vision Zero people in Sweden tell us that really, it is all about design.

We’re also naturally prone to be distracted and have our attention diverted by music, phone calls, smoking, passengers, insects, or events outside the car. On top of this, we just make silly mistakes. The human factor is always present – 365 days a year. An effective road safety system needs to take human fallibility into account. By designing the entire transport system to cater for human fallibility, we will learn how to manage kinetic energy in traffic systems and change road and vehicle design – separately and in unison.

Let’s stop blaming the distracted pedestrian and even the distracted driver and start looking at fixing the system- The designs of our cities and suburbs that put cars before people. The forced dependence on cars by so many drivers who really don’t have the skills needed to handle heavy machinery. And lets start taking all these pedestrian deaths seriously instead of treating them like a cost of doing business.