Millions of people walk the streets of New York daily most concentrated in urban areas in and surrounding New York City. Unfortunately, the streets in these areas were not built for pedestrian traffic. They were built to move motor vehicles along the roadway quickly and efficiently.
Many roads are too narrow to accommodate pedestrian traffic without putting walkers in dangerous proximity to distracted, impaired, or aggressive drivers who have the safety of a big, heavy, enclosed vehicle, often complete with safety features such as seat belts and airbags.
In just one year, the number of fatal pedestrian accidents increased in New York by 30 percent, leaving traffic safety experts and state and city leaders to try and determine the best ways to reduce these numbers. Here is a look at the common causes of pedestrian accidents in New York.
Speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic-related fatalities. It can occur when the driver exceeds the posted speed limit on a roadway and when they are driving too fast for the weather and traffic conditions. In 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul approved the passage of A.1007-A/S.2021-A, also known as Sammy’s Law.
Sammy’s Law was named in honor of 12-year-old Sammy Eckstein, who a speeding driver killed in 2013. This legislation allows city governments to reduce the speed limits on certain streets to below 25 miles per hour and also increases the fines drivers face for leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it.
As explained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding causes several hazards that can result in the injury or death of a pedestrian, including:
- An increased risk of the driver losing control of the vehicle.
- A reduction in the time a driver has to see a pedestrian in the roadway and respond by braking.
- An increased distance that the vehicle will travel after braking.
- Increased difficulty for pedestrians when trying to judge a safe gap in traffic in which to cross the road.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted drivers killed nine people on U.S. roadways daily. About 20 percent of distracted driving fatalities involve vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
Driver distractions involve anything that:
- This causes the driver to look away from the road. These are known as visual distractions.
- This causes the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. These are known as manual distractions.
- This causes the driver’s thoughts to stray from the task of driving safely. These are known as cognitive distractions.
Several things can be a distraction to New York drivers and lead them to have an accident with a pedestrian, including eating, drinking, smoking, visiting with passengers, attending to children or pets in the back seat, adjusting vehicle and stereo controls, or looking at people or other cars on the roadway. However, the most concerning distraction to traffic safety experts is texting (and other smartphone use) while driving.
Texting is so dangerous because it can simultaneously be a visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. In fact, in the time it takes a driver to read or reply to a text, they can travel the length of a football field without looking at the road, thinking about driving safely or having their hands properly positioned on the steering wheel to have better control of a vehicle. This is plenty of time for a pedestrian to step off the sidewalk and into their path without notice.
- Talking on the phone, with the exception of emergency circumstances in which the driver needs to contact medical, fire, or law enforcement personnel.
- Composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, or receiving data such as emails or text messages.
- Viewing, taking, or transmitting images.
- Playing games.
In New York, around 30 percent of all traffic-related crashes involve an alcohol-impaired roadway user. Drivers in New York give implied consent simply by using public roadways to test their blood, breath, or urine to determine if they are impaired after an accident or at a traffic stop. Drivers can be cited for impairment if they are found to have a blood alcohol content of at least 0.05 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood and can be cited for driving while intoxicated if their blood alcohol content is at least 0.08 g/dL.
Alcohol impairment causes deficits in the driver’s skills to operate their vehicle safely. At 0.05 g/dL, most drivers will experience exaggerated behavior, loss of small-muscle control, such as the ability to focus the eyes, impaired judgment, and a lowered sense of alertness. This can result in driving deficits such as reduced coordination, a reduced ability to track moving targets, difficulty steering, and a delayed response to emergency driving situations.
At 0.08 g/dL, most drivers struggle with deficits in their ability to balance, master coordinated movements, and detect danger. They are also more likely to remember the rules of the road and exercise good judgment and reasoning. This creates driving deficits such as a loss of concentration and short-term memory, difficulty controlling speed, and difficulty processing information such as signal detection or the presence of a pedestrian in the roadway.
Left turns can be tricky for drivers because they often require them to yield to oncoming traffic and wait for a sufficient gap in that traffic to complete their turn. This requires the driver to employ visual search, perception, and judgment skills as they continually process information from the roadway.
Inattentional blindness occurs when the driver’s brain is overwhelmed by information in a chaotic traffic situation. This causes them to focus only on the most significant road hazards while letting go of smaller details, such as a pedestrian crossing the roadway the driver is turning onto. Often, the driver is caught up in what the vehicles going straight on the road are doing, not the pedestrians in the crosswalk.
The Drivers of SUVs, Vans, and Pickups
Larger passenger vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks have been blamed for much of the increase in pedestrian accidents on U.S. roadways. They hinder visibility by producing significant blind spots around the vehicle and placing the driver higher up off the ground, making it particularly hard to see people crossing the roadway in front of them.
Researchers with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report that the drivers of SUVs are twice as likely than the drivers of smaller vehicles to strike a pedestrian while making a left turn, while drivers of vans or minivans were three times as likely, and drivers of pickup trucks were nearly four times as likely.
In pedestrian accidents not involving turns, pickups were 51 percent more likely to collide with a pedestrian than other vehicle types, and SUVs were 25 percent more likely. Analysis has revealed that the taller ride heights and bigger hoods on these vehicle types result in up to 11 percent larger blind spots, leaving drivers unable to see pedestrians in many circumstances. Because these are heavier vehicles, they require a longer stopping distance due to the brakes having to work harder to pull the vehicle to a safe stop.
Additional studies have concluded that pedestrians struck by these larger vehicle types commonly experience more severe injuries due to the vehicle’s mass and design. Because of the higher hood height, the point of impact on the pedestrian’s body is more commonly the chest or head area, and injuries are more likely to occur to the brain or spinal cord. Brain and spinal cord injuries are likely to produce permanent deficits or even death.
Driver fatigue is most commonly associated with long-haul truck drivers and night or swing shift workers operating vehicles on the roadway during hours of darkness when the human body is instinctively wired for sleep. However, any driver can become fatigued due to circumstances such as lack of sleep, mental exhaustion at work, or medical conditions such as sleep apnea that cause a person to feel unrested even if they have obtained the required amount of sleep.
Many of the symptoms of fatigued driving mimic those of driving while impaired by alcohol, such as slow reaction times, poor decisions, the inability to control one’s lane position (drifting), and short-term memory loss. Fatigued drivers can experience microsleeps, which last 30 seconds, or even nod off into full sleep while driving.
Slightly more than half of New York’s population of 19.84 million people are employed. Studies show that 37 percent of workers in the U.S. get less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per day. This equates to more than 3.6 million potentially fatigued drivers in New York who could harm pedestrians.
Seniors Face Increased Risks of Injury or Death in Pedestrian Accidents
New Yorkers over 65 only account for around 15 percent of the population in the urban boroughs of New York City, but they account for 45 percent of the deaths from pedestrian accidents in this part of the state.
The number of risks of pedestrian accidents increases among this population, due not only to their physical fragility as a result of age but also to decreases in vision that make it more difficult for them to gauge safe gaps in traffic or see a change in traffic signals. Additionally, this populace can have difficulty pacing themselves to make it across the roadway before the signal changes or navigating complex intersections safely.
Studies indicate that older pedestrians are more likely to base crossing decisions on the size of the traffic gap without considering the speed at which vehicles are closing that gap. They are also less able to anticipate vehicle movements such as backing up.
Have you been injured in a New York pedestrian accident? If so, contact a pedestrian accident attorney to seek compensation for your injury.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.