Why U.S. streets are becoming deadlier for pedestrians

Pedestrian deaths in the United States have been going up since 2009. Over 3,000 more pedestrians died in 2021 than in 2009, a trend that's not mirrored in other industrialized countries, where pedestrian fatalities are actually declining. Even stranger these deaths in the U.S. occur more frequently in the evening.

So, why are so many pedestrians dying at night in the United States?

The New York Times podcast, The Daily, featured an interview with staff writer Emily Badger, who investigated the nighttime pedestrian deaths in the U.S. What she learned is that there's no single reason for this surge. Instead, it's a combination of contributing factors. As Badger puts it, solving this issue is like to solving a Rubik's cube.

One significant and obvious factor is smartphone usage. Both pedestrians and drivers are increasingly distracted by their devices. But this issue isn't unique to the U.S.; smartphones are ubiquitous in Europe too. So, what makes the situation in the U.S. more dire? A surprising factor is the prevalence of automatic transmission vehicles in the U.S. Unlike Europe, where manual transmission is more common, in the U.S., only about one percent of cars have a stick shift. This means American drivers often have a free hand to use their smartphones or interact with increasingly complex in-car control panels, whereas European drivers need one hand on the gear shift at all times.

But that doesn't fully explain the higher incidence of fatalities in the evening. One theory is that Americans often deal with work-related messages during their commute home, blurring the lines between work and personal life. This practice is less common in Europe, where there's a more distinct separation between work hours and personal time.

Additionally, the size and design of American cars play a role in the severity of pedestrian injuries. Larger vehicles with higher hoods strike pedestrians at the chest or head, causing more severe trauma than smaller European cars, which are more likely to hit a pedestrian's legs.

If you're not already a listener, I highly recommend The Daily. It's free and covers a new topic every weekday in just 20 minutes.