According to Arizona Governor's Highway Safety Association, pedestrian deaths have increased by 27 percent between 2007 and 2016! During the same period, all other traffic fatalities decreased by 14 percent. Maricopa Country was second in the number of pedestrian fatalities in 2016 – second only to Los Angeles County.
Why do we have such a high number of pedestrian fatalities?
Depending on the specific case, both drivers and pedestrians can be to blame. There can be a variety of factors involved, including inattention, speeding, distraction from cell phone usage, people under the influence of prescription medication, illegal drugs and alcohol. But this doesn't explain the danger because these issues exist all over the country.
Does the law need to change? For the most part, Arizona has laws that address all of these dangerous scenarios and attempts to protect pedestrians.
According to A.R.S. § 28-792(A), drivers in Arizona are required to yield right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks (whether marked or unmarked); however, the statute also states:
A pedestrian shall not suddenly leave any curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the drivers to yield.
The same statute makes it illegal to overtake and pass a stopped vehicle at a pedestrian crosswalk, thereby ensuring the safety of those in the crosswalk. On the other hand, A.R.S. § 28-793 prohibits jaywalking by pedestrians.
According to A.R.S. § 28-794(1-3), … every driver of a vehicle shall: (1) exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on any roadway; (2) give warning by sounding the horn when necessary; and (3) exercise proper precaution on observing a child or a confused or incapacitated person on a roadway. Thus, the brunt of the responsibility rests with the motorist, who is driving a heavier, faster means of transportation.
What explains the shocking increase in pedestrian fatalities? Could it be the “snowbirds” and out of town visitors? How about the rapid population growth? Maricopa County always ranks at the top of fast growing cities. How about the fact that Maricopa County is the fifth most populous county in the country?
Whatever the cause, unfortunately, pedestrians are walking on streets and roadways designed primarily for vehicles. For example, intersections on wider streets are designed to allow large vehicles like trucks and buses to make turns quickly and easily. This makes pedestrians cross longer distances to reach the safety of the sidewalk on the other side. One solution is to create more traffic islands on wider streets to provide a safe place for pedestrians to stand before crossing the second half of the street.
Various pedestrian safety measures and technologies are being instituted around the country. These include giving a dedicated crossing signal for pedestrians to cross exclusively, a crosswalk signal that gives pedestrians head start over cars, pedestrian-activated no turn on red indicator lights, and mid-block traffic signals for pedestrian traffic. Despite, slowing vehicular traffic, these safety measures do work.
The good news is that largely due to technology, traffic accidents and fatalities have decreased and vehicles have become safer. Employing the same ingenuity with which this was accomplished, we can make our streets safer for pedestrians.