Happy National Pedestrian Safety Month! Sorry, I didn’t get you anything. Yes, this storied tradition, going all the way back to 2020, is once again upon us. As usual, it’s time to don our highly reflective clothing and check in to see where the National Traffic Safety Administration is with actually improving pedestrian safety.
The most important indicator of if this whole month of awareness is working is to check in and see if the rate of pedestrian deaths gone down. Well, unfortunately telling pedestrians to wear reflective clothing and make eye contact with drivers didn’t work. Rates went up in 2021 and then spiked another 13 percent last year — a four-decade high of 7,485 pedestrians.
This year NHTSA is taking a stronger stance by asking drivers to pretty please pay attention and follow the rules of the road:
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If telling drivers to pay attention and follow both the law and common sense was affective, we wouldn’t be having a whole month devoted to pedestrian safety. NHTSA cares so much about pedestrian safety, in fact, that its pedestrian safety website hasn’t been updated in two years. After decades of distracted driving awareness campaigns, boring billboards and other weak-willed actions, deaths are up across the board both inside and outside of vehicles, with the U.S., hitting a 16-year high for overall deaths in 2021.
Is NHTSA taking any of the recommended steps outlined by the Government Accountability Office all the way back in 2008 to start rating vehicles for pedestrian crash safety? Not really. In March, NHTSA announced it was only considering including advanced driver assistance systems for testing in its New Car Assessment Program. This wouldn’t test cars with the hope of making their design any less deadly in the event of a strike but would test pedestrian avoidance systems like blind spot detection, blind spot intervention, lane keeping support, and pedestrian automatic emergency braking to prevent the crash in the first place.
The initial news isn’t good on such systems however. The independent nonprofit Institute for Highway Safety tested earlier this year and found they were wholly inadequate for protecting pedestrians, especially at night.
If anything, vehicles are getting heavier and more dangerous for the fragile lives that exist outside of the giant mecha-suit vehicle. EVs aren’t helping matters. Now, vehicles are both heavy and immensely quick, with tons of torque straight off the line. The 12,000 pound EV Hummer should make every safety advocate (and everyone else on the road) extremely nervous:
Even the less giant EVs weigh twice as much as a traditional gas-powered car. The increase presence of large trucks and SUVs on our roads, as well as the fleet’s growing share of EVs, means being outside of a car is more dangerous than ever.
All this is to say the NHTSA continues to do fuck all about pedestrian safety, and will continue doing nothing for a long time. Of course, we could cut traffic deaths in half today, we just don’t want to.