We should be more concerned about pedestrian safety

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

            As Berry students, we all walk a lot. Whether we take the hike from Ford up to the main campus every day or simply travel between the major buildings to get to class or pick up food, almost all of us spend a significant portion of our day as pedestrians. Many of us keep cars on campus as well, and we’re lucky that most drivers on campus are gracious in driving reasonably and yielding to pedestrians, perhaps because we all have to walk at one point or another to get around as well. 

             The world outside “the Berry bubble,” however, is not so fortunate. Pedestrian safety is one area in which the United States has been regressing in recent years. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, almost 3,500 pedestrians were killed by drivers in the first half of 2022, the highest number in 40 years. That’s an 18% increase over the number of pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. We must take note of this concerning trend and consider action to address it. 

            What’s behind this concerning surge, then? One factor may be the vehicles we’re driving themselves. In recent decades, SUVs and pickup trucks have supplanted the family sedans which used to dominate the roads. While these vehicles are attractive for their storage space and versatility, they’re also much larger and heavier than traditional cars, making them more dangerous for other road users. 

            The design of many SUVs and trucks also entails lower visibility. With their tall hoods, these cars often have massive front blind spots, making it especially difficult to see shorter pedestrians such as children. Their A-pillars—those strips on either side of the windshield that support the roof—have also grown wider in recent years, making it harder to notice hazards while turning. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that pickup trucks were 51% more likely and SUVs 25% more likely than traditional cars to kill pedestrians. 

            We must also consider the fact that our streets often prioritize speed over safety, making them hostile to pedestrians. Multi-lane streets with concerningly high speed limits and poor sidewalks dominate many cities. I remember one thoroughfare near my hometown in particular that was nine lanes wide with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour. Though I was always lucky enough to approach that street in a car, I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to cross that street to get from the bank to Walmart. 

            We also live in an incredibly car-dependent society—according to census data, 86% of Americans primarily drive to commute to work. The spread-out density of most of our communities and the lack of good public transportation means that drivers have to drive more and pedestrians have to walk more, making things less safe for everybody. Even though Berry’s campus is very walkable, we still reside in a car-dependent area: if you need food or medicine after hours, a car is usually necessary to travel off campus.

            We should also be particularly concerned about this surge in pedestrian deaths because it’s disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable in our society. A study in the Journal of Transportation and Health found that lower-income and homeless people are significantly more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes, and other research has found that Black pedestrians are killed at disproportionate rates. 

We should all be concerned about pedestrian safety because we are all pedestrians at some point, but this is also another crisis that our most vulnerable have borne the brunt of. It is thus imperative that we call for car makers to adhere to design standards that promote pedestrian safety, roads designed to protect walkers and cyclists, and expanded public transit to break our dependence on cars. 

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