Pedestrian deaths: What causes fatalities; how to improve safety By Michael Joseph on January 19, 2021

Our New York pedestrian injury and fatality lawyers know all too well how seriously a person can be injured when they are hit by a car or truck. All too often these encounters are fatal. In the last few months there has been a sharp increase in pedestrian deaths in the Lower Hudson Valley. Drivers are striking pedestrians at an alarming rate across the country, where the number of pedestrian deaths has increased more than 50% over the past decade. New York has bucked that trend, with stable statistics for pedestrian fatalities during that time. The Lower Hudson Valley has seen a spate of them, though, as at least four pedestrians died over a four-week period this winter.

The latest death occurred in Greenburgh on Jan. 7. A 57-year-old Greenburgh woman was crossing the Bronx River Parkway around 6:15 p.m. when she was hit by a driver.

The intersection of Route 9W and Filors Lane in Stony Point on Jan. 10, 2020. A woman died crossing the road there on Dec. 24, 2019.

That followed at least 13 pedestrian fatalities in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties in 2019.

What factors contribute to these crashes? Why has New York avoided the national rise in pedestrian fatalities? And what can be done to prevent these tragedies?

Fatal factors

Pedestrian fatalities involving motor vehicles throughout the United States steadily declined from 1979 to 2009, when the death total dipped from 8,096 to 4,109, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The numbers have since skyrocketed 53%, according to the institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to improving traffic safety.

Several factors contribute to these crashes, but something experts agree has played a significant role in the fatality increase in recent years is the rise of SUVs. Over the past decade, pedestrian deaths involving SUVs jumped up 81%, a bigger bump than any other vehicle. Fewer sedans are seen on the road and more SUVs and larger passenger vehicles, and the ways in which those impact a pedestrian’s body, they make it more likely that.  It  is stated  that the higher front ends of SUVs are more likely to cause injury to pedestrians' chests and heads. Also certain models of SUVs have blind spots that make it difficult for a SUV driver to see a person right infront of their vehicle, which means that even a momentary lapse of attention can result in a pedestrian fatality. 

Program Manager for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, said more pedestrian fatalities also seem to be occurring on arterial roads that are typically wide, with many lanes, lots of traffic, and surrounded by commercial strips and businesses. Those are typically found in suburban areas where residential activity has sprouted up recently around roads that were mainly designed for drivers, not pedestrians.

The nation's obsession with smartphones could also be adding to roadway dangers, said Retting, who authored a pedestrian traffic fatality report for the Governors Highway Safety Association in 2018.  Although there has not been any solid evidence or data yet to back that theory up, but he noted the rise in pedestrian deaths parallels the boom in smartphone use. People — including drivers and pedestrians — can't stop looking at their phones, he said.

Other factors have been consistent contributors to pedestrian deaths over the years. In 2017, 80% of pedestrian fatalities took place in urban areas and 75% occurred when it was dark outside, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Only 18% of deaths were at intersections.

Alcohol — for the driver or the pedestrian — was reported in 47% of pedestrian deaths in 2017, the NHTSA said. According to the agency's estimates, 32% of pedestrian fatalities involve a pedestrian with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, and 17% of those deaths involve a driver who has a BAC of at least .08%, the legal threshold for drunken driving. Our New York drunk driving fatality lawyers have extensive experience in suing not only the drivers, but the bars responsible for causing the driver's intoxication. 

About 19% of pedestrian deaths in 2017 were hit-and-runs, according to the NHTSA.

New York

While the nation has seen a rise in pedestrian fatalities in recent years, New York's numbers have been fairly consistent. From 2014 to 2018 there was an average of 286 pedestrians killed each year in the state, according to the Albany-based Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.  According to the traffic safety institute, the top three contributing factors to pedestrian crashes in 2018 were failure to yield right-of-way, driver inattention or distraction, and pedestrian error or confusion.

Safety tips

Here are some safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for drivers and pedestrians:

For drivers:

Look for pedestrians everywhere.

Always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Never pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks.

Do not speed, and slow down in areas with pedestrians.

Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Stay focused and slow down in areas where children may be.


For pedestrians:

Walk on sidewalks or paths when available.

If no sidewalks or paths are available, walk on road shoulders, facing traffic.

Stay alert. Don't be distracted by electronic devices.

Be cautious. Never assume a driver sees you.

Be predictable. Cross streets at crosswalks and intersections.

If crosswalks or intersections are unavailable, cross streets at well-lit areas and wait for gaps in traffic.

Be visible. Wear bright clothing during the day, and reflective materials at night. Use a flashlight.

Avoid alcohol or drugs when walking.

Drivers, victims, most deadly times

Also our New York pedestrian injury and fatality lawyers believe that such incidents can be prevented if municipalities and government agencies can help pedestrians by addressing things like crosswalks and sidewalks, and car manufacturers can work on improving things like headlights to boost drivers' vision in the dark. Adequate street lights have proven to reduce pedestrian crashes by 50%, Retting said. Refuge islands, built in the middle of roads, have also been effective at helping pedestrians cross wide streets that have several lanes of traffic.



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The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC, has been helping injured victims recover compensation for their injuries for over a decade. Our attorneys are members of several prestigious organizations, including: 

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