Pedestrians walking America's rural highways face a surprisingly high risk of death, according to recent national reports. The Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHSA) reported that 47,501 pedestrians died on U.S. highways between 2000 and 2009. Transportation America, an advocacy group, also indicated that roughly 13,000 - or 27.5 percent - were killed in rural areas, translating to more than 1,000 rural pedestrian deaths every year.
Native Americans tribes largely populate four of the five rural counties with the highest pedestrian death rates. Robeson County, North Carolina, for example, led the nation in pedestrian fatalities, with 81 deaths. The county is home to the Lumbee tribe.
Roads Not Designed to Accommodate Pedestrians
Most major roads (urban, suburban and rural) are designed to move traffic, rather than safeguard pedestrians. This lack of infrastructure sidewalks, crosswalks, proper lighting or shelters prevents motorists from anticipating and interacting safely with pedestrians. As a result, pedestrians take to the road at their own risk.
Ironically, while high-speed roads without pedestrian infrastructure are more common in rural areas, more than 1.6 million rural households have no access to a car. Older and low-income adults, two groups less likely to drive, also populate small towns and rural areas in larger numbers. This makes the lack of proper pedestrian infrastructure extremely problematic for rural communities.
Despite the risks, both drivers and pedestrians can take steps to improve safety and reduce accidental death on rural roadsides.
Tips for Driver Safety
- Stay alert for pedestrians, who may turn up unexpectedly
- Drive slowly in bad weather or at night, when visibility is low
- Approach crosswalks carefully and be prepared to stop quickly
- Always stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, even those that are unmarked
- Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians
- Watch carefully for pedestrians, as well as oncoming traffic, when making a turn
- Drive carefully near schools and neighborhoods where children are playing
Tips for Pedestrian Safety
- Avoid freeways and areas designed for heavy traffic
- Use sidewalks when they are available. If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic
- Cross streets at crosswalks or at easily visible locations
- Wear light or reflective clothing to enhance your visibility and carry a flashlight at night
- Avoid drugs and alcohol, which can impair your judgment and your reflexes
- Be extra careful when crossing multi-lane, high-speed streets
- Never assume that drivers see you. Instead, be cautious near traffic and make eye contact with drivers if possible