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The Wheel Thing: Danger afoot–startling facts about pedestrian fatalities

Pedestrians account for a third or more of all traffic deaths in America's big cities
Pedestrians account for a third or more of all traffic deaths in America's big cities
Keoni Cabral/Flickr Creative Commons

Seat belts, multiple airbags, anti-lock brakes.  They've all helped decrease traffic fatalities for drivers and passengers. But those safety features don't protect pedestrians.

Here in Los Angeles, fully one-third of all traffic fatalities involve someone who is on foot. Still, you are less likely to be killed while walking in LA than in some other large cities.

City Total Fatalities Pedestrian Fatalities Percentage
New York 293 178 60.80%
San Francisco 33 18 55.40%
Washington, DC 20 9 45%
San Diego 82 30 36.60%
Los Angeles 227 76 33.5

In 2013, more than 4700 people died in the U.S. after being struck by vehicles while walking. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates another 66,000 Americans were injured after being hit by a car. Although the number of overall traffic fatalities is declining, the percentage of pedestrian deaths is increasing.

But why? There are a variety of factors that might be contributing to the on-foot carnage. 

More folks on foot: In many urban areas, pedestrian traffic has increased. Many cities are still grappling with ways to safely move both cars and people on streets that were, not so long ago, dominated by wheeled vehicles.

Digital devices:  We've heard a lot about distracted driving, but there is evidence that smart phone use can be dangerous for people who are walking, too. A study at Ohio State found injuries soaring for pedestrians who were talking, texting and otherwise distracted by their digital devices.

WUI–Walking Under the Influence: Half of all pedestrians killed while walking at night were legally drunk. That's according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Among the other facts about pedestrian fatalities, men are more likely to be struck and killed by a car. Seven out of every ten of fatalities in 2013 were males. The most dangerous times, and no surprise here, Friday and Saturday nights.

Child pedestrian deaths have fallen dramatically - over 40% since 1995. But being hit by a car remains the second most common injury-related death among kids.

The Centers for Disease Control has three simple tips for avoiding a collision with an automobile while walking:

  1. Pedestrians should increase their visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and by wearing retro-reflective clothing.
  2. Whenever possible, pedestrians should cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection.
  3. It is much safer to walk on a sidewalk, but if a sidewalk is not available, pedestrians should walk on the shoulder and facing traffic.