Getting to the Root of Pedestrian Collisions in Houston

by Terry Bryant

In late 2016, Houston police indicated that pedestrian fatalities in Houston jumped 31% from the year before. The dramatic increase left many safety advocates and government officials bewildered.

“The numbers are just dramatically going up, and it’s been really hard for us to explain why,” said Houston Police Department Sgt. Derrick Hall in a news conference.

While last year’s increase was steep, it is part of a multi-year trend in Houston. An interactive map included in a Houston Chronicle article provides a glimpse into where vehicle crashes happen. They are equally distributed throughout the city but seem especially common along I-69, I-49, Route 248, and I-610.

Some of the most severe crashes in our city involve pedestrians. The police department said that many pedestrian collisions occur while people attempt to cross freeways. Pedestrians also face risks in supposedly more pedestrian-friendly areas, like Downtown.

How Pedestrian Crashes Happen

Pedestrian accidents often happen at night when it is harder for drivers to see people crossing the road. They can occur because drivers fail to pay attention to their surroundings. A distracted, drunk, or drowsy driver is far less likely to notice someone crossing a street.

As we have discussed before in a previous post about distracted driving, safety advocates have sounded the alarms about the increase of distraction among drivers in recent years. It’s not difficult to connect the dots between the rise of pedestrian collisions and the rise of distracted driving across the country.

Avoiding Pedestrian Injuries

Drivers should keep a watchful eye for pedestrians on our roads. This means driving slowly in areas where there are higher numbers of pedestrians, always observing traffic signs and signals, and avoiding passing vehicles that are stopped at crosswalks and crossing paths. Drivers should also avoid using their mobile devices when behind the wheel.

For pedestrians, it’s important to remember that even though you see a vehicle, the driver of that vehicle may not see you, especially at night. If walking or running at night, wear bright, reflective materials to make your presence known to drivers. When crossing the street, try to make eye contact with the driver of a vehicle to make sure they see you. Avoid crossing the street anywhere other than designated crossing locations. Always adhere to crossing signals and stop lights.

Many pedestrian fatalities are children and older adults. Since these pedestrians are most vulnerable to accidents, drivers and other pedestrians should do their part to keep them safe. For drivers, that means allowing extra time for an elderly pedestrian to cross the street, or coming to a complete stop when schoolchildren are crossing the road.

Safety has become a major concern on our roads over the last couple of years. Pedestrian collisions and traffic deaths have both increased at an alarming rate. As Houston residents look for ways to make our roads safer, we should first be mindful of how we can improve our own driving practices to help reduce the number of pedestrian collisions.