What would make our state safer for walkers?
Louisiana is one of the top five most dangerous states for pedestrians, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We have one of the highest rates of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles.
Nationwide, pedestrian deaths have been rising steadily for a decade, and jumped an alarming 10 percent in 2015. In Louisiana, more than 100 pedestrians die each year - an average to two people struck and killed by cars every day.
Why so many pedestrian fatalities in Louisiana? What would make our streets safer for walkers?
Way too many people are killed by cars in Louisiana.
The NHTSA annual tracks pedestrian fatalities per capita in each state. Louisiana ranks 25th in population but 5th highest in the rate of pedestrian deaths -- 2.26 fatalities per 100,000 people. By comparison, Minnesota is 21st in population but has the lowest pedestrian deaths (0.27 fatalities per 100,000). Only New Mexico, Florida, Delaware and Nevada are more deadly per capita than Louisiana.
There were 4,884 pedestrians killed in the U.S. in 2014, including 105 pedestrian lives lost in Louisiana. The Governors' Highway Safety Association reports that another 65,000 Americans suffer serious injuries in pedestrian accidents each year.
There are many theories for the surge in car-pedestrian encounters. More people walking and biking to work. More miles driven because of lower gas prices. More drivers (and pedestrians) distracted by cellphones. Even hybrid cars get some of the blame, silently "sneaking up" on pedestrians in electric mode.
What's the solution to pedestrian accidents?
- Alcohol is a factor in almost half of pedestrian traffic fatalities - drunk drivers are involved in 15 percent of deaths but about 35 percent of the time victims themselves are legally intoxicated. This defies an easy fix - DUI enforcement, ignition interlock, designated drivers and sober cabs would help.
- Over 70 percent of pedestrian accidents happen after dark. Flashing rectangular beacons at pedestrian crossings have worked in other states to reduce pedestrian accidents - at night as well as broad daylight.
- However, the majority of pedestrian accidents occur at non-intersections. Could Louisiana communities do more to encourage walkers, joggers, children and cyclists to use crosswalks? Could more be done to discourage texting while driving and texting while walking? Streetlights, pedestrian bridges and speed bumps all save lives.
- Senior citizens are more likely to use crosswalks, yet they are still at greatest risk of being hit. Speed enforcement, safety islands, beacons and other measures could help them cross the street safely.
- Cars are safer than ever for occupants. Technology could help pedestrians too. Newer cars have crash avoidance systems and warnings that may help drivers avoid mid-block collisions with pedestrians. Some automakers are re-engineering the front end of cars to reduce injuries to non-occupants. Many hybrid cars are equipped with artificial noise to alert people on foot that they are turning or backing up.
We've all seen drivers and pedestrians alike do risky and careless things. We can all help make the streets of Louisiana safer. If you're driving in a pedestrian area, put away your phone, slow down and keep an eye out. If you're walking, put your phone away, cross at intersections when possible and make eye contact with drivers.
If the worst case scenario happens, get legal counsel. Under Louisiana law, personal injury compensation can be reduced according to the percentage of fault ascribed to the victim.