The road is safer for motorists and their passengers in San Diego County than a decade ago, even as pedestrians are being hit and killed in record numbers.
This is the confluence of two nationwide trends that is also playing out locally. There have been recent ups and downs in overall traffic fatality figures , but since 2010 there has been a steady increase in the county. That increase has been most evident in pedestrian fatalities, which last year were up 53 percent compared to 2007.
In 2007, out of every 10 traffic fatalities in the county, six were car occupants and two were pedestrians (the rest involved motorcycles, bicycles or “other”). That year, fatalities totaled 346.
In 2015, out of every 10 fatalities in the county, five were car occupants and three were pedestrians. That year, fatalities totaled 303.
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Kathleen Ferrier is a spokeswoman at the transit advocacy organization Circulate San Diego. She said more people walking locally is a factor but not an excuse for the recent trend.
“As more people walk, we shouldn’t accept the fact that more people are going to be hit,” she said. “That seems to be the general consensus right now, it’s acceptable as part of our modern culture that people are getting hit by cars.”
San Diego police Officer Mark McCullough, with the traffic division, said distractions are part of the problem — for drivers and pedestrians.
“We all see the advertisements and all of that for distracted drivers, but we also tend to forget you can be just as distracted as a pedestrian,” McCullough said.
Pedestrians, however, have less margin of error in an accident. Over the past 20 years, technological advancements including airbags and crumple zones have helped keep car occupants safer in collisions.
“Nothing in that same timeframe has ever been built to protect the safety, or protect the lives of the pedestrian, other than traffic engineering and how we design roads and lighting,” McCullough said.
Ferrier said Circulate San Diego is asking for improvements in that traffic infrastructure to help pedestrians use safer crosswalks and avoid jaywalking.
“(Pedestrians) shouldn’t have to cross their fingers before they cross the street,” she said.
One of those improvements is already happening in San Diego, with new ladder-type crosswalks replacing the traditional parallel lines at street corners.
McCullough said drivers and pedestrians, many of whom are not San Diego natives, might be likelier to recognize that more international crosswalk style. Ferrier said she also supports the new crosswalks.
“Studies show that they’re much more effective at having the car stop for the pedestrian,” she said.
For McCullough, preventing deaths also means enforcing traffic laws through tickets.
“That does cost people money,” he said. “But it does bring to their attention, ‘Hey, I need to start being a better pedestrian or a better driver or it’s going to cost me or somebody else their life.’”