My friend Douglas Wiken reminds us how dangerous South Dakota's highways are for pedestrians. Nationwide, pedestrian deaths are increasing just a little:
In 1975, more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents across the US. By 2009, the figure dropped to a low of 4,109. But in 2011, the most recent year for which U.S. Department of Transportation figures are available, they rose again, to 4,432, amounting to 14% of all traffic deaths that year, which totaled 32,367.
Nationally, the pedestrian death rate among those 70 and older was 22 per million people in 2011, nearly twice the death rate among younger victims, according to the DOT [Donna Bryson, "Pedestrian Deaths Trip Alarm," Wall Street Journal, 2013.07.29].
The U.S. Department of Transportation is following various enlightened municipalities in changing its mindset and funding priorities to design transportation infrastructure around people, not cars. I know many of you will squaller if I say we should get rid of cars, so how about we just get rid of drivers?
Google estimates that self-driving cars could reduce the annual 30,000 road fatalities and 2 million injuries in the United States by up to 90 percent. The costs of those traffic accidents and the road congestion they cause, in just the 99 biggest U.S. urban areas, amounts to nearly $300 billion per year, according to the American Automobile Association, which supports the legislation [Maggie Clark, "States' Self-Driving Car Laws Open Door to More Questions Than Answers," Governing, 2013.07.30].
But fewer cars and Google cars won't eliminate one of the big reasons for increased pedestrian injuries: cell phones!
More than 1,500 pedestrians were estimated to be treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using a cell phone while walking, according to a new nationwide study.
...A wide variety of injuries were reported. One 14-year-old boy walking down a road while talking on a cell phone fell 6 to 8 feet off a bridge into a rock-strewn ditch, suffering chest and shoulder injuries. A 23-year-old man was struck by a car while walking on the middle line of a road and talking on a cell phone, injuring his hip.
Findings showed that in 2004, an estimated 559 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for injuries received while using a cell phone. That number dropped to 256 in 2005, but has risen every year since then. Meanwhile, the total number of pedestrians estimated to be treated in emergency rooms dropped from 97,000 in 2004 to 41,000 in 2010 [Jeff Grabmeier, "Distracted Walking: Injuries Soar for Pedestrians on Phones," Science Daily, 2013.06.19].
We could just let natural selection take its course. Or we can advocate more foot-friendly street design, always give pedestrians the right of way... and pay-the-heck attention no matter how we are traveling.