Pedestrian Accidents On The Rise In New York City

While the number of car accidents in New York City is going down, pedestrian injuries and fatalities are on the rise. This is true even though New York has taken steps to increase pedestrian safety in recent years, including adding bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

What, then, has caused the increase in pedestrian accidents? What do we need to do to make our streets safer for pedestrians?

New York Pedestrian Accident Statistics

According to data from the New York Police Department (NYPD), nearly 15,500 bicyclists and pedestrians were injured in New York City in 2012. At least 155 people lost their lives. Brooklyn was the most dangerous place for bicyclists (48 fatalities) followed by Manhattan (41 fatalities) and Queens (40 fatalities).

And there is evidence to show that fatal pedestrian accidents are on the rise. In January 2013, 28 pedestrians were killed on New York streets. Compare that to 2012, when the highest monthly total was 17 pedestrian fatalities.

The picture is similarly bleak across the U.S., where pedestrian deaths increased from 4,109 in 2009 to 4,302 in 2010 and 4,432 in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Why The Rise In New York Pedestrian Injuries And Fatalities?

If the roads are safer and there are fewer car accidents than ever before, why are pedestrian fatalities and injuries on the rise? Here are some possible culprits:

Distracted walking: In 2012, distracted walking was a cause of at least 1,100 U.S. pedestrian accidents. Talking on a cellphone, texting, listening to music, reading emails, even playing video games - these have all become common pedestrian activities. Yet, scientific studies show that human beings can focus on only one thing at a time. This causes some distracted walkers to walk straight into traffic. Distracted walkers are simply unable to identify and respond to dangerous situations, such as a car running a red light.

Distracted driving: Like distracted walking, distracted driving is a growing danger. For pedestrians, a distracted driver can be the equivalent of a runaway car. A driver looking down at his or her cellphone will not be able to stop abruptly for a pedestrian running out into the street. She or he may turn into a pedestrian after failing to check blind spots and could even be distracted enough to run a red light.

Drunk walking: It is much safer for people to walk home than to drive after having one too many, but that doesn't mean drunk walking is safe. Impaired walkers are often the victims of pedestrian accidents. A study by New York University's Langone Medical Center found that 15 percent of injured pedestrians had consumed alcohol before their accidents. Combine drunk walking with an increase in distracted driving and you have a recipe for disaster.

Few repercussions: It is hard to derive any connection between the NYPD's failure to initiate criminal investigations against drivers who hit pedestrians and the increase in pedestrian accidents. However, it is too well settled to dispute that very few drivers are charged with crimes when they hit - and even kill - pedestrians. The city's Accident Investigation Squad investigates only those accidents involving serious injuries or death. Even then, very few accidents result in criminal prosecutions. So, making a connection between the two is difficult at this time. Perhaps if the police department pursued these cases with more vigor, it may deter pedestrian accidents in the future as well as holding the offenders accountable. The present approach is not making the public safer.

The above causes help explain why pedestrian accidents have gone up, but they are certainly not the only reasons. Other common causes include reckless driving, drunk driving, speeding, jaywalking, taxicabs turning into pedestrians and poor road design.

How Can We Improve Pedestrian Safety?

Almost all pedestrian accidents are preventable. New York must do its job to create safe roads for everyone, from drivers to bicyclists to pedestrians. Yet, it is up to every one of us to drive and walk more safely.

The majority of pedestrian accidents on the road are caused by driver error - 44 percent of pedestrians are struck in crosswalks when they have the right of way. Yet, pedestrians can also do their part to prevent accidents by watching out for cars. This is a near impossible task if they are distracted by their phones. Eight percent of all pedestrian accident victims surveyed by the NYU Langone Medical Center were using a cellphone or music player at the time of their accident. Pedestrians should put down their phones and concentrate on walking.

Another way to improve safety is to hold drivers accountable when they hit pedestrians. If the city will not investigate and criminally charge drivers in pedestrian accidents, then it is up to the civil court system to see that justice is done. Through personal injury lawsuits, victims can recover compensation for their economic and non-economic injuries such as medical bills, funeral expenses, income loss and pain and suffering.