What Makes a Road Dangerous for Pedestrians?

Child on way to school getting ready to cross the street.In 2012, a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found walking to be the most popular form of exercise activity in America. This finding emphasized the importance of recognizing and addressing the high rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

The report found that between 2003 and 2012, more than 47,000 people were killed and almost 700,000 people were injured while walking in the United States. The CDC found that not only has the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities increased in the past few years, but majority of the injuries and deaths could have been easily prevented, with precautions like safer street designs and more traffic signs.

Some, like Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, attribute the amount of pedestrian injuries to poor road design. “We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year; a number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Millar. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies that keep everyone safe.”

The Complete Streets Coalition advocates for streets that are safer and more accessible for all members of a community. The coalition notes that most of pedestrian fatalities over the last decade have occurred on roads that “encourage speeding.” Spokesman Craig Chester defines such roads as “wide, fast-moving arterial roadways that are primarily designed for moving cars and make little if any accommodations for pedestrians, bicycle riders or even transit users…These roads typically lack frequent crosswalks, sidewalks or other pedestrian-safety measures like median islands. A majority of pedestrian fatalities over the last decade—52 percent—happened on arterial roads.”

The coalition has several policy recommendations to improve pedestrian safety, including:

  • Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health and law enforcement agencies
  • Increase the available funding and maximize the use of existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects
  • Adopt a Complete Streets policy and comprehensive implementation plan
  • Update design policies and standards
  • Standardize and gather more comprehensive data on pedestrian crashes
  • Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits

However, pedestrian behavior also plays a major role in pedestrian injuries in fatalities. Another studyof 7,000 pedestrian vehicle crashes in Florida found that pedestrian behavior caused 80 percent of the incidents. Jaywalking was cited as a common factor, which includes walking against a pedestrian walk signal, crossing a street where there is no crosswalk, crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk, and ignoring designated pedestrian pathways.

Another study of 5,073 pedestrians involved in traffic crashes attributed the following pedestrian behaviors to pedestrian vehicle crashes:

  • failing to yield (both drivers and pedestrians)
  • jogging/walking in the wrong direction
  • working on a parked car
  • leaning on a parked car
  • pushing a disabled car
  • standing between parked cars
  • standing in a road


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