Rise in pedestrian traffic fatalities signals need for emphasis on safe roadways

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Austin’s roads have seen 81 deaths in 2015. This number is on track to be one of the deadliest years for traffic deaths in the city’s history. More troubling is the number of pedestrian tragedies — about one-third of this year’s total traffic fatalities were pedestrians, which is more than double the nation’s rate. Since walking is a common mode of transportation for UT’s students, Austin’s dangerous roads may cause a growing concern amongst Austin’s student population. 

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing writes that pedestrian deaths are usually a combination of several factors. These factors include the physical environment of the site, as 74 percent of pedestrian-related accidents tend to occur in places where no traffic control exists. Another environmental factor could be time: 70 percent of pedestrian-related accidents occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Additionally the state of both the driver and pedestrian may influence the occurrence of a crash, such as the presence of alcohol, reckless attitudes of the pedestrian and others.

Electrical engineering freshman David Liu thinks a lot of the responsibility falls on the pedestrian, especially when many do not pay attention to incoming traffic or are distracted. 

“I think pedestrian behaviors are partly at fault,” Liu said. “Most pedestrians stay glued to their phones and don’t pay attention to their surroundings.”

Civil engineering professor Chandra Bhat wrote in an article for the Star-Telegram that some structural changes, such as raised medians and pedestrian-activated hybrid beacons, could reduce pedestrian fatalities. However, he believes that behavior changes must happen to truly reduce the number of pedestrian traffic deaths. 

“To keep everyone safe on Texas roadways, we all need to follow the laws and recognize that non-motorists and motorists are legitimate users of the roadway, each with their rights and responsibilities,” Bhat said. “Many states also now include, as part of the driver education curriculum, information on the responsibilities of a motorist when encountering non-motorists. More of this is needed. We also need more stringent laws and, more importantly, better enforcement of our current laws.”

A stronger emphasis on the rules of the road may be key to reducing deaths, both for pedestrians and motorists. For pedestrians, crossing roads at designated areas and following traffic control signals drastically increases their safety. In terms of structural changes, adequate lighting dramatically improves visibility for both pedestrian and driver, especially when both commuters are rushing to get home at night. While the presence of stop signs and crosswalks are numerous throughout campus, it will take a safety-first mindset and common sense to ensure roads are safe for everyone.

Dam is a linguistics freshman from Cedar Park. Follow him on Twitter @daviddamwrite.