Pedestrian travel does not guarantee safe arrival. There are dangers wherever we walk or get out for exercise. Between navigating cracked sidewalks, searching for crosswalks, and dodging cars in areas with little to no pedestrian infrastructure, a leisurely stroll can lead to danger while you are on your way to your intended destination.
With advances in vehicle technology and heightened pedestrian safety awareness, you might think that anyone traveling on foot, in a wheelchair, or with the use of a mobility aid would at least face better conditions than in the past. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In a troubling trend, pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in Illinois and across the rest of the country.
In the first six months of 2020, 77 people in Illinois were killed in pedestrian accidents compared to only 70 in the first six months of 2019. The figure further rose in 2021, when 78 pedestrians died between Jan. 1 and June 30. That’s an 11% increase in Illinois pedestrian fatalities between 2019 and 2021, which was slightly lower than the nationwide average increase of 17%.
This alarming increase in pedestrian fatalities raises an important question, “Why did Illinois pedestrian deaths increase in 2021?” As a law firm with attorneys dedicated to helping those who have been injured, Schweickert Ganassin Krzak Rundio, LLP wants everyone in Peru and the rest of Illinois to be as safe as possible when traveling, so we looked into what factors contributed to this recent uptick in fatalities.
A Car-Centric Society
There is no denying it—Americans love their cars. Policies from the early to mid-20th century adapted and reshaped existing cities to better suit travel by car, and since then, newly developed cities, towns, and areas primarily focus on accommodating motor vehicles. Unfortunately, safe travel for pedestrians has become an afterthought to this progress. The ability to travel on foot is often so difficult that Americans drive for trips that are less than one mile about 70% of the time.
Many communities lack the type of pedestrian infrastructure that is necessary to keep people safe. Pedestrian infrastructure that provides a safe place in which to walk may include some of the following:
- Sidewalks that are at least 5 feet wide
- A buffer zone that physically separates the street from sidewalks
- Clearly marked crosswalks
Additional safety features in addition to the traditional striped crosswalk are often necessary to keep pedestrians safe. Pedestrian signals that feature green “Go” and red “Stop” indicators, HAWK beacons, and in-street pedestrian crossing signs can all improve existing infrastructure that has not been effective at protecting those who do not travel by motor vehicle.
Unfortunately, making infrastructure changes alone may not be enough. Advocacy campaigns coupled with infrastructure improvements are often more effective for reducing the number of accidents.
However, lackluster pedestrian infrastructure was not something new in 2021. While Illinois’ current system for protecting pedestrians is certainly inadequate, it does not on its own account for the entirety of the increase in deaths. Here are some other factors:
Excessive Speeding, Distracted Driving, and Other Reckless Driving Behavior
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant shift in our driving behaviors. As more and more people began working from home, and everything from McDonald’s to groceries could be delivered to our doorsteps, most people drastically reduced the amount of time they spent behind the wheel. At the same time, more people began to walk as a form of exercise and to get out of their homes during quarantine.
However, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that a relatively small number of drivers actually increased the time they spent on the road. Those who spent more time driving during 2021 were much more likely to speed excessively and engage in other types of reckless driving behavior. These higher-risk drivers caused proportionately more accidents that year than they did prior to the start of the pandemic.
Researchers found that 51% of people who increased their driving time during the pandemic admitted to speeding 10 or more miles over the speed limit in residential areas, compared to only 35% of those who either reduced their driving time or drove the same amount. This same disparity can be seen in other reckless driving behaviors, including:
- Reading text messages
- Purposely running red lights
- Making aggressive lane changes
- Refusing to wear a seatbelt
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
Increase in Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption sharply increased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Binge drinking and other forms of excessive drinking shot up by 21%. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) also reported that the increase in traffic deaths during the first six months of 2021 was the largest ever recorded by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). There were 18.4% more deaths in the first six months of 2021 compared to the first six months of 2019.
According to multiple studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving is the number one killer on American roads. In 2019 alone, 10,142 people died in drunk driving accidents.
As more and more people consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and willingly engaged in reckless driving behaviors, it is no surprise that the number of accident fatalities sharply increased.
Growing Popularity of SUVs and Pickup Trucks
Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks accounted for only 47% of new vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2009. In 2021, these vehicles made up 75% of all new vehicle sales. While these vehicles offer benefits to vehicle owners, like increased passenger capacity and more room to store or transport large items, they are not without their risks. Light trucks (the category that both SUVs and pickup trucks fall into) are much more likely to be involved in fatal pedestrian accidents compared to smaller passenger vehicles like sedans or hatchbacks. These vehicles are heavier and take longer to stop.
Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that SUVs are deadlier to pedestrians due in large part to their design. Both SUVs and pickup trucks have higher front-end designs, which means that they hit pedestrians at higher points on their bodies (such as in the chest), making them more likely to inflict traumatic or even fatal injuries.
Not only are SUVs more likely to cause fatal injuries to pedestrians, but since there are such a large number of SUV vehicles on the road than smaller vehicles, it logically follows that more pedestrian accidents involving SUV drivers are also more likely.
Finding Hope After a Pedestrian Accident
Whether you were injured or lost a loved one in a pedestrian accident, finding a way to move forward in life can be hard. Many people in this situation feel hopeless as medical bills, lost wages, and even funeral expenses complicate the recovery process.
At Schweickert Ganassin Krzak Rundio, LLP, we believe that every victim of a pedestrian accident deserves to be represented with dignity, respect, and the provided the right guidance to maximize recovery for the injuries they sustained. Our attorneys can serve as an invaluable guide through the process of getting you the compensation you deserve for your own damages or on behalf of a lost loved one.
To learn more about your options for compensation, filing a personal injury lawsuit, or pursuing a wrongful death claim, contact us to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our knowledgeable and compassionate pedestrian accident lawyers.