According to analysts, pedestrian deaths rose an estimated 10 percent in 2015 over the previous year. The study was based on state traffic fatality data from the first half of 2015; if the trends they discovered held steady in the second half of the year, 2015 would make the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian deaths since the current federal system for monitoring traffic deaths was created in 1975.
But why are pedestrian deaths rising? Analysts pointed to a variety of factors that are putting more pedestrians and drivers on the road.
1. Lower gas prices and unemployment mean more miles driven
Among other factors, analysts pointed to the fact that people who may have chosen to take public transit or stay at home in previous years are now back behind the wheel.
Gas prices plummeted in 2015, making driving a significantly more affordable activity than it has been in recent years. The average price of a gallon of gasoline rose to $4.50 in 2008 and hovered in the $3.50-$4.00 range in recent years, but plunged below $3.00 in 2015 and may fall well below $2.00 in 2016.
Since the economy made a significant recovery in 2015, people who might otherwise have stayed at home are commuting again, and people who may not have been able to afford cars in previous years bought vehicles in 2015. Consumer confidence rose in 2015, and confidence in the economy often translates into sales of new vehicles. Car sales surged in 2015, and May of 2015 saw the strongest monthly pace in car sales since July 2005. Pickups, SUVs, and crossover vehicles were popular picks due to low gas prices. These large vehicles are known to be more deadly for pedestrians, since they have far more mass, and their high, blunt hoods are more likely to strike a pedestrian’s head (an often fatal injury) than their legs (a dangerous but far more survivable impact).
2. More people are walking
Warm weather and unusually short winters across North America may have resulted in more people getting out of their cars and walking on days when they might otherwise have driven. After several years of brutal, snowy winters, the American Northeast experienced record-breaking highs during the winter months. Even Alaska reported a warmer winter than average.
3. Smart phones are winning out
While cell phones have been around for a while, smart phone ownership rose significantly in 2015. While total cell phone ownership only rose 2 percentage points from 2014 to 2015, smart phone ownership jumped 4 percentage points in the same time frame. A whopping 68% of American adults owned a smart phone as of July 2015. That means that the majority of American drivers now have a potentially distracting device on or near their person when they’re behind the wheel.