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Addressing the Rise in Pedestrian Deaths at Night: A Denver Perspective

December 12, 2023

In a revealing piece, the New York Times recently highlighted a worrying trend across America: the increasing number of pedestrian fatalities occurring at night. It’s fascinating and I highly recommend you check it out.

(Tangent: The interactive stories put out by the Times and their data geeks are fascinating to me!)

Anyway, I was reading this interesting piece of journalism and had many thoughts about similar hazards on Colorado’s roads. So, of course, I decided to write about it.

Like the rest of the country, Colorado and Denver have experienced a disturbing uptick in road fatalities. Yet we struggle to make changes that turn the trend around. The New York Times article got me thinking about all of the compounding problems that have made our roads less safe over the last few decades. Here are a few…

Distracting Technologies: Smartphones and Smart Cars

man using smartphone in car for dangerous denver roads

Photo credit: Alexandre Boucher / Unsplash

In today’s world, technology is a double-edged sword. While smartphones and smart cars offer convenience and connectivity, they also pose significant distractions to drivers. The allure of a notification or the complexity of modern car dashboards can easily divert attention from the road. In Colorado, where bustling city life often meets unpredictable weather, the consequences of such distractions can be deadly, especially for pedestrians.

The Smartphone Menace

Smartphones have become inseparable companions for many, but their use while driving can have fatal repercussions. Texting, social media browsing, or even GPS navigation can significantly impair a driver’s attention, reaction time, and overall awareness of their surroundings.

I have been personally involved in passing legislation in Colorado to limit distracted driving on Colorado’s roads. I have seen far too many people injured or killed by distracted drivers. In 2024, I plan to double-down on these efforts and, hopefully, pass even stricter laws against texting while driving.

Smart Cars: Helpful or Hindrance?

Modern vehicles come equipped with advanced “infotainment” systems. These systems, meant to enhance the driving experience, often require significant attention to operate. Adjusting settings or navigating these systems while driving, especially on Denver’s busy streets, increases the risk of not noticing a pedestrian crossing the road.

Then there’s the whole debate around autopilot functions. Tesla recently recalled 2 million cars that were equipped with Autosteer, which Tesla describes as “traffic-aware cruise control.” Apparently, drivers were using the function in ways that weren’t safe. (Who saw that coming?) Also, San Francisco has allowed self-driving taxi services on its streets and it’s been… rough.

Manual vs Automatic Transmission

Manual transmission

Photo ctredit: Alok Sharma / Unsplash

The automotive industry has seen a drastic decline in the sale of manual transmission vehicles. This shift to automatic cars has its implications. Drivers of automatic vehicles often find themselves with more freedom to engage in other activities, such as eating, using a phone, or fiddling with the car’s entertainment system.

With less need to focus on gear shifting, drivers may become less engaged with the driving process. This lack of engagement can be particularly hazardous in pedestrian-heavy areas of Denver, where constant vigilance is required to ensure pedestrian safety.

Darkness Itself

Dark denver road is unsafe for pedestrians, near Union Station in LoDo

Photo credit: Josh Hild / Unsplash

The cover of night adds another layer of danger to pedestrians. Poor visibility is a significant factor in nighttime accidents.

The Perils of Poor Lighting

Many areas in Colorado, including parts of Denver, suffer from inadequate street lighting. This makes it difficult for drivers to spot pedestrians, particularly those wearing non-reflective clothing.

Road Hazards in the Dark

Apart from visibility issues, drivers might not easily notice road hazards or changes in traffic patterns at night, increasing the likelihood of accidents involving pedestrians.

American Roads are Designed for Speed

fast highway

Photo credit: Javier Estebar / Unsplash

The design of American roads, with a focus on vehicle efficiency and speed, often neglects pedestrian safety. This design philosophy is evident in Colorado’s road infrastructure, where wide lanes and limited pedestrian crossings encourage higher speeds and reduce driver attentiveness to pedestrian movement.

Cars Over Pedestrians

Pedestrian in Downtown Denver

Photo credit: Colin Lloyd / Unsplash

This design approach has historically prioritized vehicles over pedestrians, leading to roads that are inherently more dangerous for those on foot, especially in urban areas like Denver where pedestrian traffic is high.

The rise in pedestrian deaths in Colorado, as in the rest of America, is a multifaceted issue. Addressing it requires a comprehensive approach, involving changes in road design, better lighting, public awareness campaigns on the dangers of distracted driving, and stricter enforcement of traffic laws.

As our cities grow and evolve, it’s imperative that we prioritize the safety of all road users, especially the most vulnerable – pedestrians.

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