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Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities

Guide No. 51 (2007)

by Justin A. Heinonen and John E. Eck

PDF Guide  Order Bound Copy

The Problem of Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities

What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover

This guide examines the problem of pedestrian-vehicle crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities. It reviews the factors that contribute to such crashes. It then provides a series of questions to help you analyze your local pedestrian injury and fatality problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about them from evaluative research and police practice.

Pedestrian injuries and fatalities are but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to travel and road safety. This guide addresses only the particular harms created by unsafe pedestrian behavior, vehicle and driver factors, problematic physical environments, and other special conditions. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide include:

Some of these related problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide. For the most up-to-date listing of current and future guides, see www.popcenter.org

General Description of the Problem

Pedestrian-vehicle crashes are a major problem in the United States. In 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that approximately 4,700 pedestrians were killed and another 70,000 injured due to pedestrian-vehicle crashes. 1 On average, a pedestrian is killed in a traffic collision every 113 minutes and injured every eight minutes. 2 Although only 8.6 percent of all trips are made on foot, 11.4 percent of all traffic deaths are pedestrians. 3

The times and days pedestrians are most at risk of injury differ from those when they are most at risk of death. Most pedestrian injuries occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., with a peak time between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., whereas pedestrian fatalities usually happen at night (i.e., between 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.). 4 Most pedestrian-vehicle crashes take place on Friday and Saturday with the fewest crashes occurring on Sunday. 5 It is possible that these temporal patterns correspond with specific conditions. For instance, most pedestrian injuries might occur between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. because overall vehicle traffic increases during these hours as drivers commute home from work. Furthermore, pedestrian fatalities that occur at night could result from a combination of factors such as drunken drivers, drunken pedestrians, and poor visibility. Analysis of your community's problem might reveal other explanations for temporal patterns of pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Finally, the majority of pedestrian injuries and fatalities happen to males between the ages of 25 and 44.

Pedestrian-vehicle crashes also tend to concentrate at certain places:6

  • The majority of pedestrian-vehicle crashes (60 percent in urban areas; 67 percent in rural areas) occur at places other than intersections.
  • Seventy-four percent of pedestrian-vehicle crashes occur where no traffic control exists.

The patterns mentioned above are general and based on research from several different communities. You should study the particular patterns in your own community, as they may vary from these general patterns.

Factors Contributing to Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities

Understanding the factors that contribute to your community's problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

No single factor is completely responsible for the problem of pedestrian-vehicle crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities. A combination of unsafe pedestrian behavior, vehicle and driver factors, problematic physical environments, and other special conditions all contribute to them.7 This list of factors is not exhaustive, but instead highlights some common causes of pedestrian-vehicle crashes that result in injuries and fatalities.

Local analysis may reveal unique situations, not on this list, that you may need to address. Local analysis should be based on the pedestrian-vehicle crash triangle (Figure 1). This triangle is a modification of the widely used problem analysis triangle (see www.popcenter.org for a description). Simply stated, pedestrian-vehicle crashes occur when physical environments allow pedestrians to come into contact with moving vehicles. If this occurs repeatedly, then a pedestrian-vehicle crash problem exists. Most such problems will be the result of failures on all three sides of the triangle: pedestrians who are inattentive or incapable of using the street safely; drivers who operate in ways that make it difficult for them to detect pedestrians in the road; and physical environments that encourage unsafe pedestrian and/or driver behavior, or fail to adequately separate pedestrians and vehicles. The relative importance of each side of the triangle will vary from problem to problem. Fixing any one side may reduce the problems, in principle. Fixing more than one side should give greater assurance that the response to the problem will work.

Figure 1 also lists multiple specific causes of pedestrian-vehicle crashes along each side of the triangle, as well as a set of special conditions you should consider. Each of these is described next.

Figure 1: Pedestrian-vehicle crash triangle and specific causes of crashes

Pedestrian Behavior

Unsafe pedestrian behavior is a major factor in pedestrian injuries and fatalities. In a recent study of 7,000 pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Florida, researchers discovered that pedestrians were at fault in 80 percent of these incidents.8 Similarly, in a U.K. study, pedestrian behavior accounted for 90 percent of crashes where a vehicle struck a pedestrian.9

Pedestrian jaywalking. Specifically, jaywalking is often cited as a poor pedestrian behavior that leads to pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Jaywalking is a general term for any form of illegal street-crossing by a pedestrian.10 There are several types of pedestrian behavior that qualify as jaywalking:

  • Walking against a pedestrian walk signal
  • Crossing a street where there is no crosswalk (midblock crossing)
  • Crossing a street outside of a marked crosswalk where one is present
  • Walking on a street along with the traffic flow (ignoring designated pedestrian pathways).

In addition to jaywalking, other unsafe pedestrian behavior could also increase the risk of injury or fatality. According to a study of 5,073 pedestrians involved in traffic crashes, the following factors also contributed to pedestrian-vehicle crashes:11

  • 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.

Jaywalking is often considered to be an urban problem. In one study, the frequency of jaywalking was found to be a function of city size where jaywalking incidents increase as city population increases.12 In addition, the same study noted that 71 percent of all fatal pedestrian-vehicle crashes in the United States in 2000 occurred in urban areas. The problem of jaywalking, however, is not limited to urban areas. Although researchers found urban areas to have three times more jaywalkers, suburban jaywalking can be a problem due to a lack of sidewalks that separate pedestrians and vehicles.13

Pedestrians, vehicles, and the physical environment. The interactions of these three elements control the risk of pedestrian-vehicle crashes. Here, many pedestrians walking among moving vehicles in a low light wet environment suggest a hazardous situation. Credit: John Eck

Despite the link between jaywalking and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, jaywalking remains a low-priority police concern. One reason could be that police tend to lump pedestrian violations into general traffic violations which they often consider minor folk crimes.14 Consequently, police might not enforce jaywalking violations as actively as other more serious crimes. For instance, the widely touted jaywalking crackdown in New York City actually resulted in only 99 jaywalking tickets being issued for an entire year during the crackdown. This level of enforcement is miniscule considering the size of New York's pedestrian population. 15

One reason why police might be reluctant to enforce jaywalking violations is because it potentially exposes them to allegations of racial profiling. For instance, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has established a "zero-tolerance" program that aims to reduce quality-of-life violations such as speeding, excessive noise, and jaywalking. A one-year analysis of the program, however, showed that it appeared to have a disparate impact on Milwaukee's minority population. For instance, the police gave the majority of citations for quality-of-life violations, including jaywalking, to ethnic minorities in low-income, high-crime areas.16 In fact, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities received three out of every four municipal tickets during a one-year span in Milwaukee.17 The potential problem is that while blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities received roughly 75 percent of quality-of-life citations, these groups account for approximately 55 percent of Milwaukee's population. 18

In addition to jaywalking's being a low-priority police concern, it appears that law makers also view jaywalking as a low-priority problem. The current penalties associated with jaywalking reflect this low priority in some cities. For instance, in the District of Columbia, pedestrians face a mere $5 fine for jaywalking.19

Although jaywalking contributes to many pedestrian injuries and fatalities, it does not necessarily follow that jaywalking is inherently risky behavior. If many pedestrians jaywalk without getting injured, the number of pedestrian-vehicle crashes might be high, but the risk of a crash for each jaywalking incident might be quite low. There is little available research on jaywalking's risk rate. To calculate such risk, we would need to know the jaywalking crash rate and jaywalking frequency.

With that said, the following sections describe several factors that, when identified, should help your agency move beyond solely enforcing jaywalking to reducing actual pedestrian-vehicle crashes that result in injuries and fatalities.

Pedestrian perceptions of risk. Some pedestrians might be injured or killed because they are unaware of their own risk of being involved in a pedestrian-vehicle crash. Often, pedestrians have perceptions of low risk when they frequently travel familiar routes. In fact, pedestrians who regularly use certain paths or crosswalks are likely to reduce the time they wait at pedestrian crossings.20 Conversely, pedestrians who have been involved in or who have witnessed a pedestrian-vehicle crash are willing to wait longer at crosswalks.

Distracted pedestrians are also at higher risk. For instance, pedestrians using a cell phone are less likely to look at traffic before crossing, to wait for traffic to stop, to look at traffic while crossing, or to walk briskly.21

Pedestrian consumption of alcohol. Drunken driving is the cause of many traffic crashes throughout the world. Similarly, drinking contributes to unsafe pedestrian behavior that results in crashes with vehicles. Pedestrians who have been drinking run an even higher risk of getting killed in traffic, constituting between 39 percent and 60 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.22 Of pedestrian fatalities resulting from traffic crashes, between 42 percent and 61 percent of fatally injured pedestrians had blood-alcohol content levels (BAC) of 0.10 percent or more.23 Drivers with this BAC level are considered "impaired" under statutory definition and cannot legally drive.24 Although also impaired under this statutory definition, it is not illegal for pedestrians to walk with a BAC level of 0.10 percent. Nonetheless, "impaired" pedestrians can contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes because they likely have slower reaction time, have poor judgment, and are not likely assessing the safeness of walking conditions.

For instance, while pedestrians who have not drunk alcohol are more aware of increased walking risks, drunken pedestrians tend to be more oblivious to traffic conditions, poor lighting, and poor weather.25 Consequently, drunken pedestrians are more likely to be injured or killed by vehicles because of their inability to recognize dangerous walking and traffic conditions.

Finally, the more one drinks, the higher the risk of being involved in a pedestrian-vehicle crash resulting in a fatality. One study found that out of 176 pedestrian fatalities, 86 of those involved pedestrians who had been drinking, nearly all of whom had BACs of 0.10 percent or more.26

Pedestrian perceptions of crossing devices. Some pedestrians might not understand or be aware of signs that convey safe walking procedures.27 Therefore, some pedestrians might inadvertently enter roads and be struck by oncoming traffic because they are confused. For instance, some pedestrians may jaywalk simply because they do not know where and when they have the right-of-way.

Pedestrian speed and pace of life. Pedestrian non-compliance with signs and signals is a significant factor in pedestrian-vehicle crashes nationwide.28 Some researchers have suggested that pedestrian non-compliance could be due to the pace of life that is often associated with larger cities. For instance, pedestrians move more quickly in big cities when compared with small towns.29 One researcher also discovered that whether male pedestrians were in a hurry or not influenced their decision to cross the street while the light was red. 30

Pedestrian speed versus crossing-device speed. Crossing devices that do not accommodate the rate at which urban pedestrians would like to travel may also encourage poor pedestrian behavior. For instance, if pedestrians have to wait a relatively long time for a walk signal, they are more likely to cross midblock to avoid delays.31

In addition, if a pedestrian is trying to go to the opposite side of an intersection after crossing one street, the pedestrian will need to cross the adjacent street. However, the timing of crossing devices may not correspond to the walker's directional path (see Figure 2). Therefore, after crossing one street, a rushed pedestrian may be less inclined to wait for a walk signal to cross the next street. Some researchers have found that significantly fewer pedestrians jaywalked when there were short wait times to cross the second street.32

Figure 2: Signal timing at crosswalks

Pedestrian perceptions of enforcement risk. Some pedestrians may conform to walking regulations because of personal preference or habit, while other pedestrians calculate the risk of getting caught by police against the benefits of jaywalking.33 Because many cities and police departments do not give high priority to jaywalking enforcement, the risk of getting caught and cited is quite low. Enforcing traffic laws is unpopular with officers because it is perceived as trivial and can lead to friction between citizens and police.34 Consequently, the lack of enforcement or penalties could result in a larger disregard for pedestrian safety rules, resulting in higher crash rates. 35

Pedestrian unawareness of pedestrian laws and safety. Another problem related to pedestrian laws is the possibility that pedestrians might be unaware of or misunderstand pedestrian laws that designate where and when they have the right of way. It is also possible that some drivers are unaware of their rights and duties or pedestrians' rights and duties. Furthermore, a test on pedestrian safety in one police department revealed that a large majority of officers had a difficult time identifying pedestrian safety laws and the rights and duties of both drivers and pedestrians.§ Given that some police officers have trouble identifying driver and pedestrian laws and rights, it is possible that many people in the general population are unaware of pedestrian laws and safe behavior. This, too, may contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes.

§ This point was substantiated by an anonymous police officer reviewer of this guide whose agency reached this conclusion on the basis of an internal officer survey

Pedestrians' following the leader. Cues from other pedestrians affect the cautiousness and walking behavior of pedestrians sharing the same intersection or route. For instance, some pedestrians act as "frontliners" (those pedestrians nearest to the street at an intersection) while others act as "backfielders" (those pedestrians behind other pedestrians at an intersection). One study found that when "frontliners" crossed, "backfielders" followed without examining walking conditions.36 Therefore, if "frontliners" cross illegally, other walkers may enter a road without adequately assessing their own individual risk. Essentially, this situation can be described as a "herd mentality" where each member feels an exaggerated sense of protection from being part of a group.

Similarly, obedient pedestrians (those who do not jaywalk) and disobedient pedestrians (those who do) influence one another's behavior: the disobedient encourage jaywalking among the normally obedient, but the obedient can reduce jaywalking among the normally disobedient.37 In addition, disobedient walkers can diminish pedestrian penalties' deterrent effects. For example, disobedient walkers might motivate other pedestrians to cross illegally because their behavior indicates that particular situations lack penalties.38

Vehicle and Driver Factors

Vehicles and their drivers' behavior are the second major group of factors that you should consider. In all, this guide identifies four vehicle and driver factors that could contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes that result in injuries and fatalities. Like the pedestrian factors described above, the importance of each factor is often unclear because of a lack of research and probably varies from problem to problem.

Driver perceptions of risk. Similar to pedestrians, drivers can also be unaware of their own risk of hitting a pedestrian. Furthermore, some of the factors that affect pedestrian perceptions of risk can also influence driver perceptions of risk. For instance, alcohol, familiarity with travel routes, and cell phone use might reduce a driver's ability to recognize the risk of hitting a pedestrian.

Speed of vehicle. Speeding is a major contributor to vehicle-vehicle crashes. It is not surprising, then, that speeding is also an important consideration when examining pedestrian-vehicle crashes. Speed influences these crashes in two distinct ways. First, speed increases the chances of a collision. Simply, faster vehicle speeds make it more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, and at the same time, high speeds reduce the amount of time the driver and pedestrian have to avoid a crash.39 Second, given a crash, the faster the vehicle the more severe the injury to the pedestrian. For example, a pedestrian hit at 40 miles per hour has an 85 percent chance of getting killed, whereas the likelihood goes down to 45 percent at 30 miles per hour and 5 percent at 20 miles per hour.40

Volume of traffic. The greater the pedestrian and vehicle traffic, the greater the chances that pedestrians and vehicles will encounter each other on the street. As mentioned above, most pedestrian injuries and fatalities occur in urban areas, undoubtedly in part because cities have both more vehicles and more pedestrians when compared with non-urban areas.41

Type of vehicle. The type of vehicle involved in a collision influences the severity of injury and the chance of death for a pedestrian involved in the collision. For instance, an increase in the number of light truck vehicles (LTVs) has changed the pedestrian injury profile due to their raised bumper height.42 Unlike LTVs, vehicles with lower bumper heights strike the lower part of pedestrians, causing them to hit the car's hood or windshield. Conversely, LTVs strike pedestrians above their center of gravity causing them to project forward, increasing the probability that the same vehicle will subsequently run over them. Consequently, the risk of death in an LTV-pedestrian crash is 3.4 times higher than that of crashes involving pedestrians and standard passenger vehicles.

Physical Environment

The physical layout of a city and its pedestrian transportation routes and crossing devices might encourage some pedestrians to cross or enter roads in unsafe situations. The following environmental features could encourage risky pedestrian behavior.

Lack of pedestrian crossing devices. Pedestrian crossing devices serve two purposes. First, they regulate behavior by indicating what is right and wrong. For instance, the “Don’t Walk” signal indicates that it is wrong to cross at that time. Second, crossing devices help people judge safety. The same “Don’t Walk” signal also indicates that it is possibly dangerous to cross at that time. However, when intersections lack walking signs, crossing devices, or crosswalks, it is difficult for pedestrians to determine appropriate behavior or judge the safety of a particular walking route. Consequently, the lack of signals at intersections can contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes that result in injuries and fatalities.

Absence of midblock crosswalks. As mentioned, pedestrians might avoid inconvenient intersection crossings because they delay the pace of travel. However, midblock crossing is implicated in 55 percent of all fatal pedestrian-vehicle crashes.43 If convenient midblock crosswalks were available at popular crossing points, pedestrians could cross these areas that would otherwise be unsafe and illegal.

Width of roads. Pedestrians are far less likely to jaywalk when crossing distance increases.44 This finding suggests that narrower roads could encourage unsafe pedestrian behavior. Wider roads, however, could promote higher vehicle speeds, resulting in a possible trade-off with regard to pedestrian safety.

Poor timing of crossing signals. Fast crossing signals can also create problems in some circumstances. For instance, wide roads (or widening roads as a strategy) could have the unintended consequence of putting specific pedestrian groups at higher risk when signals do not allow enough time for these groups to cross safely. When crosswalk times are set for the average pedestrian, then slower pedestrians—the elderly, people with movement-related limitations, parents with children, and so forth—may not be able to completely cross before traffic starts again. In neighborhoods where slower pedestrians make up a significant part of the population (e.g., around retirement homes and medical facilities), a "crash hotspot," or area with a high pedestrian-vehicle crash frequency, might develop. The box below reveals an example of this type of problem, and how the city addressed it.

Addressing an Elderly Pedestrian Crash Problem in New York City 45

Scanning: The New York City Department of Transportation's Safety Division identified a pedestrian-vehicle crash hotspot on Queens Boulevard.

Analysis: Data on pedestrian-vehicle crashes resulting in fatalities as well as an examination of the environment revealed several factors that contributed to the problem. First, Queens Boulevard is the widest street in New York City. Second, traffic volume is heavy across the street's 12 lanes. Third, elderly pedestrians were most often involved in the collisions. In fact, crash data indicated that all 20 pedestrians who were killed in the sample were at least 60 years old or older. Researchers discovered that stoplight signals did not allow enough time for elderly pedestrians to cross such a wide road.

Response: In 1985, the Safety Division implemented several strategies to address the problem. However, the response most pertinent to this section was the modification of stoplight signals to increase pedestrian crossing time.

Assessment: Two years after the intervention, researchers determined that traffic volume had actually increased by 19 percent on Queens Boulevard. Nevertheless, the number of both fatal and likely fatal pedestrian injuries decreased after the intervention by 43 percent and 86 percent, respectively. During the same time frame, however, fatal pedestrian injuries occurring citywide decreased by only 4 percent.

Despite the strategy's initial effectiveness, the city has established new efforts to reduce pedestrian-vehicle crashes on Queens Boulevard as recently as 2003.46 The lesson is that solutions are not permanent and need to be revisited as traffic and other conditions change.

Poor conditions of sidewalks. Poor sidewalk conditions might influence pedestrians to overlook safety and seek better walking conditions along the street. In addition, poor sidewalks may be a particular problem for runners or other similar groups who prefer smooth surfaces for their activities (for example, speed walkers and cyclists). Poor sidewalk conditions, including the absence of curb cuts, also places people with movement-related limitations in a dilemma; the street is risky, but the sidewalk is impassible.

In addition to the conditions of sidewalks themselves, obstructions around sidewalks could also be problematic. For instance, in residential areas, bushes and trees can overhang sidewalks making passage difficult. Leaf and other plant litter, or snow and ice, can also cause obstructions when not quickly removed. In addition, cars in many urban and congested suburban areas often park across the sidewalk while parked in their own driveway. This situation could also result in pedestrians' having to leave the sidewalk to walk around the cars.

Absence of sidewalks in certain areas. Some travel paths do not have sidewalks at all. The absence of sidewalks could encourage or even force some pedestrians to walk along dangerous roads. Again, people with limited mobility might choose the street over walking on grass, dirt, or uneven terrain.

Capacity of sidewalks. Pedestrians prefer to walk on wide sidewalks. 47 However, pedestrians and vehicles compete with each other for how transportation space will be allocated in larger cities. In response to greater vehicle traffic volumes, some central business districts have reduced sidewalk width to accommodate traffic flow.48 In addition, in some commercial districts, new sidewalk cafés reduce the available space for walking. Consequently, pedestrians often exceed sidewalk capacity, thus encouraging pedestrian use of streets and making crashes more common. No studies were found that directly discussed whether this problem creates crash hotspots. However, given the other findings and what we know from other problems, crash hotspots are highly likely.

Special Conditions

Special conditions are circumstances that accentuate one or more of the factors already mentioned and concentrate them at particular times (e.g., when there is bad weather), at particular places (e.g., shopping centers), among particular types of people (e.g., those with limited mobility), or some combination of times, places, and people (e.g., construction sites). Patterns involving these special conditions can be difficult to detect. For example, pedestrian-vehicle crashes involving shopping centers might be spread over several shopping areas with no discernible hotspot on a map. Only if you looked specifically for a pattern involving shopping centers would you see the pattern. Similarly, people with limited mobility may be involved in crashes at a variety of places and only by looking for special victim characteristics would you notice that this group is particularly vulnerable. There are ten obvious and common special conditions listed below, but you should consider others that might be important in your community. Though potentially difficult to detect, once detected it might be easier to identify effective solutions; the circumstances may be peculiar enough to point to a few obvious ones.

Bad weather can increase pedestrian-vehicle crashes. A snow storm has made sidewalks in this residential area difficult to use. It has also reduced the driving width of the streets and made them slick. Credit: John Eck

Weather. Inclement weather can influence how pedestrians behave and their ability to assess walking conditions. In addition, inclement weather can also affect drivers' ability to avoid collisions with pedestrians. Specifically, weather could have an effect on pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the following ways:

  • Haste and speed. Poor weather makes people uncomfortable, so they are likely to move faster to get out of it. Their haste may make them less attentive and more willing to take risks.
  • Altered walking conditions. Weather can also make walking surfaces more dangerous and put pedestrians at a higher risk of injury. For example, in the winter, slippery surfaces can decrease pedestrians' ability to move out of danger—e.g., change direction quickly. In fact, evidence suggests that, among older pedestrians, more crashes occur during fall and winter months.49 Standing water and puddles during other seasons could also contribute to altered pedestrian patterns.
  • Reduced visibility for pedestrians. Fog, rain, snow, and darkness reduce visibility, and consequently, the amount of time pedestrians have to react to vehicles. Precipitation also reduces ambient light which makes dawn and dusk more problematic. In addition, rain gear and cold-weather clothing can restrict visibility. In particular, coat hoods can restrict peripheral vision, especially the deep hoods that have become more popular.
  • Reduced visibility for drivers. Some of the same factors that reduce pedestrians' ability to see also affect drivers'. Although fully functioning wipers can help with visibility, fog, rain, and snow still restrict drivers' ability to see, particularly objects not directly in front of the car.

A pedestrian-vehicle crash hotspot might occur because a location that is safe during good weather becomes high risk in bad weather. Responses that may be effective in good weather, might not work as well in bad weather. Creating weather-specific responses may be difficult, but you should consider doing so.

People with limited mobility. People who use wheelchairs or electric scooters to aid mobility often travel on streets instead of sidewalks. The fact that they are slower than most cars, and often unexpected, puts them at great risk. Many people have temporary limited mobility—parents pushing strollers or walking with very young children, or people carrying objects or pushing a shopping cart, for example—that can put them at higher risk of being hit by a vehicle.

People with occupational risks. Some occupations require employees to do their job close to traffic. For instance, police officers, construction workers, mail carriers, garbage collectors, and parking officers often work near roads. Local analysis in your community might reveal that these types of workers are involved in pedestrian-vehicle crashes more often than other types of pedestrians.

Children and teens. Children are potentially a high-risk group. For instance, pedestrian injury is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children ages five to 14.50 The "dart-out" phenomenon, where children quickly enter traffic from between parked cars, is one major factor that has contributed to 80 percent of pedestrian-vehicle crashes involving children aged six to eight from 1983 to 1990.51 In addition to the "dart-out" phenomenon, several other factors could put children and teens at higher risk:

  • Walking is a major form of transportation for children.
  • Children frequently don't pay attention to traffic conditions.
  • Children's height makes them difficult to see.
  • Teens can be at high risk when in groups (for example, since teens often travel in groups, they might be more prone to "herd mentality").

When children and teens use streets as recreation areas, this puts them in direct conflict with vehicles. Streets through areas with high concentrations of children and teens are potential crash locations. It is not clear, however, that restricting children and teens from roads is the only way to achieve a net safety effect. For instance, the Dutch have built mixed-use roads where streets are designed as extensions of public space used for nondriving activities such as walking, running, and playing rather than separate roads for vehicle travel only.§ Some cities in the U.S. have also implemented this traffic-calming strategy.

§ See Problem-Specific Guide No. 3, Speeding in Residential Areas.

Encumbered pedestrians

Encumbered pedestrians are at risk of being involved in crashes. This man is crossing a street pushing a shopping cart and holding a cup of coffee. The photo was taken through the driver side window to give the driver's view. Credit: John Eck

Parking areas near shopping centers. Parking areas near shopping centers could be highly problematic as there are fewer clear pedestrian paths. Consequently, pedestrians interact more with cars. Furthermore, pedestrians are often encumbered with children, packages, carts, and other items. At the same time, drivers are looking for parking spaces, reading store signs, avoiding oncoming traffic, and having to contend with pedestrians. Therefore, parking areas are marked by both distracted pedestrians and drivers, thereby increasing the chance of a crash. In fact, one study discovered that the majority of a sample of pedestrian-vehicle crashes occurred in a shopping business district.52 Efforts to reduce crashes in such places likely require owner and vendor participation.

Street repair and construction sites. Construction of sidewalks, streets, and buildings can create temporary unsafe environments for pedestrians. Pedestrians who are asked to make long detours around these sites may choose instead to walk on the streets to save time or avoid the crowded detour route. In addition, construction debris and materials can create obstacles that force pedestrians into the street. Since construction sites are temporary, the problems they create may be hidden: because the crashes are spread over a large area they may not form a spatial cluster on maps, and if there are not good records of where and when construction sites existed, it might be difficult to associate crashes with these sites. Solving such problems requires coordination with the building contractors and the local inspection and licensing authorities.

Major highways. Largely, this guide has focused on pedestrian-vehicle crashes that occur in residential or urban areas. However, major highways also provide special conditions that could contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes. One problem could entail highway off-ramps. These ramps contain rapidly exiting cars entering the traffic stream at an angle. Therefore, drivers might not see a pedestrian in time to avoid a collision. The same problem could occur at on-ramps where vehicles enter the highway at an oblique angle from a major thoroughfare.

You should also consider walking along major highways as a special risk factor. For instance, it is possible that when a motorist's vehicle breaks down or runs out of gas on the highway, the driver will likely exit his or her car to inspect the problem or walk to the nearest gas station. In doing so, the person exposes him- or herself to high-speed traffic, without any form of physical separation from passing vehicles.

One-way streets. Busy one-way streets can create a special hazard when motorists looking for vehicle traffic from only one direction fail to notice a pedestrian crossing the road in the opposite direction from where the motorist is looking.

Location of attractions. A popular attraction could be located across the street from where people live. For instance, the only nearby store or restaurant might be opposite to a large housing complex. In some areas, however, there might not be a convenient marked crossing for pedestrians traveling to such locations. In this case, the solution might be to install a crosswalk or crossing device where pedestrians often cross the street to reach a popular attraction. In other cases, the solution might be to relocate needed services on the side of the road where the majority of residents live, so they do not need to constantly cross the street.

Unlawful street-vending. Unlicensed vendors who sell various items (e.g., bottled water, newspapers, window-washing services) to motorists in streets or from medians risk being hit by a car because they move quickly across traffic lanes and around stopped cars. In some communities, children are increasingly street-vending, especially during summer. Doing so provides those who are too young to work legally with a way to earn money for themselves and their families.53 Some police departments have begun fining street vendors, while also encouraging young street vendors to sell their items from sidewalks.54

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