Last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed while walking on U.S. roadways. Between 2010 and 2021, in fact, pedestrian deaths rose 77 percent, from an annual total of 4,302 to 7,624. These increases represent 40-year-highs for pedestrian fatalities.
There are no numbers yet, for 2023, but a cursory look at headlines in cities, counties and other localities across the country — “Pedestrian deaths have quadrupled in Durham,” reads a story published this week by a North Carolina news outlet — suggests that we’re in for another year of record pedestrian deaths.
Who or what is to blame for this terrible increase in pedestrian fatalities? For starters, there is the proliferation of bigger and heavier trucks and SUVs, which may pose a growing menace to pedestrians and bicyclists. These vehicles, which often dwarf the size of their predecessors, are harder to control and have large blind zones in either the front or rear, making them much more difficult to operate in busy or crowded areas.
And then there’s physics. In a 2020 study of pedestrian crashes in Michigan, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, at residential and city speeds of 20 to 39 miles per hour, 30 percent of crashes with SUVs resulted in a pedestrian fatality, compared with 23 percent for cars. At 40 miles per hour or higher, all crashes with the SUV killed the pedestrian, while just over half the crashes with cars resulted in a pedestrian fatality.
It is difficult to overstate just how much the design of modern trucks and SUVs threatens pedestrian safety. These vehicles have tall hoods — that make it impossible to see obstacles directly in front of the driver — and longer breaking distances, increasing the time it takes for them to stop.
If you are unlucky enough to be hit by a midsize sedan going 25 miles per hour, the point of impact will most likely be your legs, causing you to flip onto the trunk. If you are unlucky enough to be hit by a Chevrolet Silverado — one of the most popular truck models in the United States — the point of impact for an adult will most likely be the torso, as the tall hood plows directly into your center of mass. A child would be crushed outright.
In addition to the kinds of vehicles on the road, there’s the fact that many roads are not safe to walk on, with few sidewalks or anything to create a barrier between pedestrians and vehicles. When coupled with an increase in speeding and a decrease in traffic enforcement, it is a recipe for greater pedestrian deaths.
It almost goes without saying that pedestrian deaths are unevenly distributed among groups. The reason is simple: pedestrian infrastructure is often worst in places that are most disadvantaged. Compared to more affluent neighborhoods, these communities have fewer parks, sidewalks, marked crosswalks and other measures to calm traffic. They are also more likely to have the wider roads and sparse streetscapes that encourage speeding. People walking in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be struck and killed than people walking in higher-income areas, and both Native and Black Americans are more likely to die while walking than any other group.
Ideally, no one would die while walking or riding a bike. Unfortunately, the path to drastically reducing pedestrian deaths is a steep one. It would require our cities to completely rethink their vehicle and pedestrian infrastructure, with an emphasis on reducing traffic speeds and redesigning streets to force drivers to slow down. It would require big, new investments in transit and public transportation, to allow those who don’t want to drive to stay off the road. It would require new policies, like vehicle weight taxes, to penalize the purchase of large trucks and SUVs. And it would require effective traffic enforcement, from the use of automated traffic cameras, which have been shown to reduce the number of vehicle crashes and deaths from speeding, to swift, certain and meaningful penalties for habitual offenders.
America’s City Councils, city planners and traffic engineers would, in short, have to prioritize safety over speed and the efficient movement of vehicles. It’s the only way to stop what is an epidemic of violence, touching the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost friends and loved ones to crashes and road accidents. I, for one, am tired of reading story after story of men, women and children being struck and killed by cars and trucks.
In the meantime, those of us who drive can exercise some personal responsibility. We can put our phones down. We can keep our eyes on the road. And we can try our best not to speed. A few extra seconds, a few extra minutes, isn’t worth a life, either someone else’s or our own.
What I Wrote
My Tuesday column was on what the rise of Jim Jordan says about the present state of the Republican Party.
My Friday column was a look at the internal dynamics of a Republican Party that produce politicians like Jordan.
And on Tuesday, I spoke with MSNBC’s Alex Wagner about the chaos in the House of Representatives.
Sarah Schulman on the manufacturing of consent for New York magazine.
A conversation with Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights lawyer, in Boston Review.
Kasia Boddy on the census for The London Review of Books.
Daniel Immerwahr on the myth of rural America for The New Yorker.
Amanda Mull on self-checkout kiosks for The Atlantic.
Photo of the Week
I’m always a fan of an old, weathered advertisement. This one is in Charlottesville, Va. and was actually being touched up so that it wouldn’t fade away completely.
Now Eating: Spinach, Tofu and Sesame Stir-Fry
You know, I’ve been doing this newsletter long enough that I’m sure I’m starting to repeat recipes. But as long as the repeats aren’t too frequent, I’m sure it’s not a big deal. Anyway, I ate this for lunch this week and it was great! Easy to throw together, goes well with steamed white rice or noodles or even a nice piece of sourdough toast. To improve the texture of the tofu, press it for at least 30 minutes before cooking to remove excess liquid. Recipe comes from the Cooking Section of The New York Times.
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ pound tofu, cut in small dice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
Soy sauce to taste
16-ounce bag baby spinach, rinsed
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet or wok, and add the tofu. Stir-fry until the tofu is lightly colored, three to five minutes, and add the garlic, ginger and chili flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute, and add soy sauce to taste. Add the spinach and stir-fry until the spinach wilts, about one minute. Stir in the sesame seeds, and add more soy sauce to taste. Remove from the heat.
Using tongs, transfer the spinach and tofu mixture to a serving bowl, leaving the liquid behind in the pan or wok. Drizzle with the sesame oil, and add more soy sauce as desired. Serve with rice or other grains, or noodles.