NHTSA Releases Report on Pedestrian Deaths in Auto Accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just released a report analyzing data for traffic crashes in the U.S. involving pedestrians. The most recent data analyzed is from 2011.

For purposes of the report, a pedestrian is anyone on foot, sitting, or lying down, and a traffic crash is any collision involving one or more vehicles on a public roadway. Note that accidents occurring on private property, including parking lots and driveways, were not included.

Pedestrian fatalities numbered 4,432 in 2011. That represents an increase of 3 percent over 2010 and the second year in a row that an increase was recorded. But the number is 7 percent lower than that of 2002. An estimated 69,000 pedestrians were injured in auto accidents in 2011.

The total number of auto accident fatalities declined rather steeply over the period 2005-2011, while pedestrian fatalities declined at a more modest pace. Accordingly, pedestrian fatalities share of total deaths increased to a new high of 14 percent in 2011.

Alcohol was a factor – either for the driver or the pedestrian – in 48 percent of auto accidents in which a pedestrian was killed. In 35 percent of those cases, the pedestrian was legally drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. Clearly, roads are a dangerous place for anyone with significant levels of alcohol in their system, whether behind the wheel or on foot.

Automobiles have become much better at protecting occupants from bodily injury over the years, but the extent to which they protect pedestrians is progressing rather slowly. The greatest danger to pedestrians struck by cars occurs when their heads hit the vehicles’ hoods. Depending on the force of impact, the hood deforms until it comes into contact with the immobile engine or other components, and then the head suffers a devastating deceleration. A system designed by Volvo uses contact sensors in the bumper to detect a collision with a pedestrian and responds by inflating a large airbag beneath the hood, which extends to cover the lower portion of the windshield. The pedestrian’s head therefore contacts either the airbag itself or the hood, which, supported by the airbag, decelerates the pedestrian’s head in a controlled manner.

All drivers and pedestrians should take personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe on roadways. When walking, cross with signals at crosswalks. When driving, be vigilant for pedestrians and expect the unexpected – pedestrians, especially children, do not always behave predictably.