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The Walking Dead: American Pedestrian Fatalities on the Rise

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

In the last decade, the number of pedestrians hit by cars in the United States has increased by almost 50%, even as that rate has decreased in Europe and other wealthy nations (“thanks primarily to new street and crosswalk designs, implemented in the belief that most road deaths are avoidable”). In a review of Angie Schmitt’s 2020 book Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America for the New York Review of Books, Peter Baker explores why America is increasingly hostile to pedestrians. Part of the reason is the rise of SUVs (and one would assume, trucks) in the US:

In the 1980s SUVs were a rarity. It was only in 2015 that they started outselling sedans. In 2018 they accounted for just under half of new vehicle sales, more than any other category of car. The height of American SUVs makes it harder for drivers to see pedestrians and means the hit comes higher on the body — and backed by extra mass — which makes organ damage and death two to three times more likely for adults, and four times more likely for children. More SUVs than ever are “overpowered” — that is, equipped with a high horsepower-to-weight ratio; this makes speeding more likely, which, like increased height and weight, increases the chances of pedestrians being hit and killed. More cars on the road, taller and heavier than ever before, going faster: each factor alone presents a serious problem. Together, they are a recipe for disaster.

And pedestrian deaths are also not equally distributed across population groups, both because of who owns cars but also shifts in where people are living:

Low-income pedestrians, Black and Hispanic pedestrians, elderly pedestrians, and disabled pedestrians are all disproportionately affected. Black and Hispanic men are twice as likely as white men to die while walking, and four times more likely than the average member of the population. Native American men are almost five times more likely.

The piece is interesting throughout, as is Schmitt’s book I’m sure.