Experts say COVID-19-related stresses are contributing to more car accidents involving pedestrians.
People are increasingly being killed while walking on the nation's roads, and experts say the pandemic has actually made things worse, according to The New York Times:
- New Jersey had its highest number of pedestrian fatalities in more than 30 years.
- In Utah, pedestrian deaths rose 22%.
- Washington State ended 2021 with a 15-year high in traffic fatalities.
- In Texas, the number of pedestrians killed last year climbed to a record high.
Dr. David Spiegel, director of Stanford Medical School’s Center on Stress and Health, said "social disengagement" during the pandemic has deprived people of social contact, a major source of pleasure, support and comfort. Drivers are not paying as much attention to driving safely, he maintains.
"There’s a portion of the population that is incredibly frustrated, enraged, and some of that behavior shows up in their driving," said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. "We in our vehicles are given anonymity in this giant metal box around us, and we act out in ways that we wouldn’t face to face."
Dr. Art Markman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said that such emotions partly reflected "two years of having to stop ourselves from doing things that we’d like to do."
"We’re all a bit at the end of our rope on things," Markman said. "When you get angry in the car, it generates energy — and how do you dissipate that energy? Well, one way is to put your foot down a little bit more on the accelerator."
Pedestrian deaths from car crashes rose 46% over the last decade, compared with a 5% increase for all other crashes, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Across the country, overall traffic fatalities are also increasing, The New York Times reports. Nearly 32,000 people were killed in vehicle crashes in the first nine months of 2021, a 12% increase from the same period in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The prevalence of extra-large SUVs and trucks are of grave concern for pedestrians.
Features like lane-departure warnings and rearview cameras embolden some drivers to dismiss the risks to pedestrians, according to experts.
"Now, about three out of four new vehicles are pickup trucks, vans or SUVs,” said Angie Schmitt, who describes pedestrian deaths as a "silent epidemic" in a new book. "Cars are getting bigger, faster and deadlier."
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