All across the D.C. metro area, fatalities of people on foot are up—and there’s every indication that this disturbing trend will continue unless substantial efforts are made by both walkers and drivers alike to change how our roads are shared.
According to local police agencies, past years have been showing an upward trend in pedestrian deaths: there were 45 fatalities in 2013, followed by 53 mortalities in 2014 and 2015 increased the number to 60 deaths. While this year-to-year trend is troubling to say the least, things have taken an even more disturbing turn as the area recently experienced a total of eight deaths in one month alone. While August has always shown higher numbers of pedestrian accidents compared to the rest of the year, August 2016 set a record by surpassing the 5.3 average to eight deaths—making it an increase of 50 percent over recent years.
This direction of this data parallels that of national statistics as the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) points out that pedestrian deaths across the nation, while never showing more than an eight percent increase year-to-year, are on track to show a 10 percent increase in 2015—the largest jump in any given year since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) began collecting pedestrian data in 1975.
So why is the District, and the Nation on a lesser scale, experiencing such a high number of foot traffic deaths? Common causes such as excessive speed, distractions and intoxication certainly top the list (note that the latter two could be on the part of driver or pedestrian), but others cite the recent boom of “walkable” communities as a large contributor to the staggering numbers.
Ultimately, walkable communities encourage residents to take to sidewalks and bike paths in larger numbers, and this means more unprotected pedestrians coming in close contact with fast-moving automobiles. Most agree that prevention is key to reversing this trend, and local areas, such as Fairfax county, are looking to provide better pedestrian safety via upgraded infrastructure, enforcing traffic laws and educating both drivers and walkers as to potential hazards.
One such effort occurred this past April when District police conducted a sting operation intent on making drivers aware of those who might literally be crossing their path. Targeting a crosswalk at 14th and U Streets, plain clothes officers proceeded to cross while watching for drivers who did not stop while there was a pedestrian in the crosswalk—a violation of the law in Washington. George Branyan with the D.C. Department of Transportation pointed out that pedestrians also have a responsibility to not cross while distracted, reading or listening to music—it’s not just drivers who must always be vigilant. The final message being that all those who traverse our city streets and roadways must work together to ensure everyone’s safety.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.