Whether they’re walking to work or just walking across the grocery store parking lot, everyone is a pedestrian at some point, and so from a slightly morbid perspective, we all have a chance of being involved in a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident. That much is true, but the odds of being in this type of accident are certainly not even for everyone.
A national study conducted in 2011 concluded what many had already realized from observations and anecdotal evidence: people of color and the elderly make up the majority of pedestrian deaths. In areas with large minority populations, the disparity is especially striking. In California, for example, African-Americans are 80% more likely to be involved in a fatal pedestrian accident than their white counterparts, and Latinos are 97% more likely to be hit and killed by a car than Caucasians.
Things are equally bad—if not worse—in the diverse state of Florida. The Sunshine State already has the dubious honor of being home to the four areas with the most pedestrian deaths in the country—Orlando/Kissimmee is in first, followed by Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Jacksonville, and Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano.
As in California, African-Americans and Latinos make up a disproportionate number of the pedestrian fatalities in these cities andthe state as a whole. We’re now beginning to see that in a state that emphasizes driving or walking, not having the option to drive is proving fatal.
Why There’s Such Disparity in Pedestrian Accidents
You don’t have to look too far to see why people of color, the elderly, and the working poor are most at risk to be in a pedestrian accident in Florida. After all, the more you walk, the more chances there are for a car to hit you (even if you are being careful). And if you can’t afford a car in one of Florida’s sprawling metropolitan areas, you’ll be doing a lot more walking than those people who do have their own motor vehicle.
Some might argue that anyone who can’t afford a car should take public transportation. But the fact is that many lower income people do take the bus—and that’s part of the problem. Bus stops in Florida are, somewhat bafflingly, often located between intersections on long roads and are far from stoplights and crosswalks (sometimes sidewalks are absent as well). Many bus riders can’t walk the distance to the nearest stoplight in the Florida heat and end up dashing across the street—often with cars driving by at well over the speed limit. Essentially, the public transportation system sets bus riders up to be particularly vulnerable as they walk to or from their stop.
The unsafe roads in Florida are also particularly dangerous for children and the elderly, who may misjudge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic when trying to get across the street and who also can’t get out of the way as quickly as a young adult. Elderly people also have more difficulty recovering from injuries sustained after being hit by a motor vehicle, and almost 20% of all pedestrian deaths are people 65 and older.
Health Care Isn’t Adequate for Injured, Uninsured Pedestrians
As if the inequality we see in pedestrian accidents isn’t upsetting enough, another study released by Johns Hopkins in 2010 found that uninsured people of color who sustained injuries in a pedestrian accident were more likely to die of those injuries than an insured white person with similar injuries. The professors who conducted the survey stated that they didn’t know why there was such a significant difference in the mortality rates, but the results led them to question whether health care providers treat uninsured people of color differently than insured white people. Health care professionals may not consciously change their treatment or behavior, but the stunning discrepancy—77% more uninsured people than insured people die even when both groups have similar injuries—is worth investigating further.
Fixing Cities’ Infrastructures Important Step in Protecting All Floridians
Our state and the country as a whole obviously have a long way to go in resolving class differences, but one area that needs our attention right now is the city infrastructure that puts poorer people at risk for being in an accident. We need to change our public transportation system so that bus riders are getting dropped off in safe places with designated areas to cross the street, and we need to add more walkways specifically for pedestrians so that they don’t have to walk along the side of the road as cars whiz by. Concrete changes like these will make it significantly safer to be a pedestrian in our cities and make it easier for those without a car to run errands, walk their children to school, and get to their jobs.
About the Author:
Steven Slootsky is a 1985 graduate of Nova Law School, which means he’s been a practicing Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer for more than 2 decades. He founded the Law Offices of Slootsky, Perez & Braxton in 1991. The Fort Lauderdale-based accident attorney is a member of the Florida Bar, as well as the Federal Bar for the Southern District for the U.S. District Court. During his career as a personal injury lawyer/auto accident compensation attorney, Steven has served as the co-chair of the Workers’ Compensation section for Broward County, Florida. He is also a Bronze member of the Florida Workers Advocates, a former member of the board, and serves as an “Eagle” member of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers.