David J. Glatthorn Palm Beach Personal Injury Lawyer David J. Glatthorn
David J. Glatthorn

Distracted Driving and Pedestrian Accidents in Downtown West Palm Beach, Florida

Introduction

The following article analyzes the link between distracted driving and pedestrian accidents in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida, and whether such accidents have become more common in this area in recent years compared to other parts of the city, state and country.

This article is based on accident data compiled by local, state and federal agencies, including pedestrian accident statistics in Florida between 2005 and 2016 gathered by U.S. Department of Transportation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.

Pedestrian fatalities nationwide reached a relative low in 2009, but have since steadily increased every year, including 2016, when pedestrian fatalities reached their highest toll in over a decade. Similar increases occurred in Florida and several metropolitan areas in the state, including the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area.

This article will attempt to analyze why such increases have occurred nationwide, in Florida and in the West Palm Beach area. In particular, this article analyzes whether driver distraction has resulted in the recent increases in pedestrian accidents or whether other contributing factors might be to blame.

Geographic Focus

The geographic focus of this article concerns downtown West Palm Beach, Florida. For the purposes of this article, this includes the following geographic area: west of Palm Beach International Airport, east of South Flagler Drive, south of 59th Street and north of Arlington Road.

In particular, this article concerns pedestrian accidents near the following downtown West Palm Beach locations: Palm Beach County Convention Center, CityPlace and nearby stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses located on Okeechobee Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue.

Background

Pedestrian fatalities reached a 20-year low in 2009, where there were 4,109 pedestrian fatalities nationwide, according to statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS, HLDI).[i] However, since then, the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased almost every year, culminating in the record-setting year of 2015, when 5,376 pedestrians were killed nationwide, the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1996. By year, the total number of pedestrian fatalities nationwide were as follows:

YEAR                            PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES NATIONWIDE

1995                            5,584

1996                            5,449

1997                            5,321

1998                            5,228

1999                            4,939

2000                            4,763

2001                            4,901

2002                            4,851

2003                            4,774

2004                            4,675

2005                            4,892

2006                            4,795

2007                            4,699

2008                            4,414

2009                            4,109

2010                            4,302

2011                            4,457

2012                            4,818

2013                            4,779

2014                            4,910

2015                            5,376

And while complete statistics are not yet available for 2016, the first half of the year was even worse than the first half of 2015 for pedestrian fatalities nationwide, putting 2016 on track to be even worse than the record-setting pedestrian fatality statistics for 2015. During the first six months of 2016, there were 2,660 pedestrian fatalities nationwide, compared to 2,486 pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2015, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA).[i] Based on such figures, the GHSA predicted that pedestrian fatalities would increase by 11 percent in 2016 to 5,997 pedestrian fatalities, the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 1990, when there were 6,482 pedestrian fatalities nationwide, according to IIHS, HLDI statistics. This projected increase in pedestrian fatalities would be the largest single-year increase in pedestrian fatalities ever.[ii]

In Florida, pedestrian fatalities have been a serious problem for decades. After California, Florida often ranks second in the country for pedestrian fatalities, according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).[iii] The other state that sometimes has more pedestrian fatalities than Florida is Texas. However, after adjusting for the population of each state, Florida actually has a significantly higher rate of pedestrian fatalities than either California or Texas. And the problem only got worse last year in Florida. During the first six months of 2016, the number of pedestrian fatalities in Florida sharply increased by 8.7 percent or 24 fatalities to 301 fatalities compared to 277 fatalities during the same six-month period in 2015. [iv] Recent pedestrian fatality statistics for all three states include:

PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES

YEAR                FLORIDA           TEXAS                CALIFORNIA

2006                544                  385                  719

2007                530                  410                  650

2008                490                  435                  620

2009                467                  350                  567

2010                486                  349                  601

2011                490                  425                  633

2012                477                  482                  653

2013                499                  480                  734

2014                588                  479                  709

2015                628                  537                  742

Pedestrian accidents have been a serious problem in Palm Beach County, Florida for years as well. In 2015, a record number of pedestrian fatalities occurred in Palm Beach County, which includes West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Wellington and Jupiter, Florida, according to statistics compiled by the NHTSA. In addition, the West Palm Beach-Ft. Lauderdale-Miami area was recently ranked the 11th most dangerous metropolitan community in the country for pedestrian accidents, according to a recent Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America.[i] In fact, of the top 11 most dangerous metropolitan areas nationwide for pedestrian accidents, 9 were located in Florida. Another organization, Transportation for America, ranked the South Florida region (Miami to West Palm Beach) as the 4th most dangerous area in the country for pedestrians.[ii]

In addition, another study reported that one pedestrian accident on average happens every day in Palm Beach County, Florida.[iii] Pedestrian fatalities for the most recent five-year period in Palm Beach County, Florida were:

PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA

YEAR                             PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES

2011                            19

2012                            25

2013                            35

2014                            34

2015                            37

Common Causes of Pedestrian Fatalities

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s May 2016 report based on 2014 pedestrian accident statistics, alcohol was one of the most common causes of serious pedestrian accidents. Specifically, 48 percent of pedestrian fatalities in 2014 involved a driver or pedestrian with alcohol in their body at the time of the accident. 14 percent of drivers had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher at the time of the pedestrian accident.

A September 2011 AAA Foundation study determined that speeding was also a factor in many accidents.[i] As the study noted, “It is well established that the risk that a pedestrian struck by a vehicle will be injured or killed is related to the impact speed.” And the faster the vehicle is traveling, the more likely a pedestrian will be killed as a result of the accident. The risk of a fatal pedestrian accident based on a vehicle’s impact speed is:

SPEED OF VEHICLE                        LIKELIHOOD OF INJURY                FATALITY

16 mph                                        10 percent likelihood                     Not Available (NA)

23 mph                                        25 percent                                   10 percent likelihood

31 mph                                        50 percent                                   (NA)

32 mph                                        (NA)                                            25 percent

39 mph                                        75 percent                                   (NA)

42 mph                                       (NA)                                             50 percent

46 mph                                        90 percent                                   (NA)

50 mph                                        (NA)                                            75 percent

58 mph                                        (NA)                                            90 percent

Speeding remains a leading cause of pedestrian accidents years later, according to a March 2017 NPR news report about pedestrian accidents.[i] "Speed is a killer for sure," said Melody Geraci, deputy executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago group advocating for better walking, cycling and public transportation options. "If a pedestrian is struck at 20 miles an hour, they have a 10 percent chance of dying. If they are struck at 40 miles an hour, they have an 80 percent chance of dying."

An increase in the number of vehicles on the road last year may have also been a contributing factor in the number of pedestrian accidents. Last year, people nationwide drove a record 3.22 trillion miles, up 2.8 percent from 2.8 trillion miles driven in 2015, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Officials believe lower gas prices helped trigger the record increase.[ii]

The time of day and time of year may also be a contributing factor for pedestrian accidents. Specifically, 72 percent of pedestrian accidents occur at night, according to the NHTSA.[iii] The largest percentage of fatalities occurred during these times at specific times of year:

  • December to February – 34 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred between 6 to 9 p.m.
  • March to May – 27 percent between 9 p.m. to midnight.
  • June to August – 33 percent between 9 p.m. to midnight.
  • September to November – 31 percent between 6 to 9 p.m.

The location of the accident also appears to be a significant factor, according to the NHTSA. More than 71 percent of pedestrian accidents occurred in non-intersection locations and 78 percent occurred in urban areas.

Age and gender may also be contributing factors to pedestrian accidents. In 2014, more than 70 percent of pedestrians killed were males. The average age of a pedestrian killed in an accident was 47 years old.[i]

Other common causes often cited as the reason why pedestrian accidents occur include:[ii]

  • Unmarked crosswalks
  • Left-hand turns by vehicles
  • Quiet cars – Battery operated and hybrid vehicles are 40 percent more likely to cause a pedestrian accident since pedestrians don’t hear the car approaching, according to NHTSA.
  • Pedestrian attempting to cross multi-lane roads – Majority of urban pedestrian accidents happen on multi-lane, arterial roadways, according to a 2010 University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center report.[15]

Distracted Driving and Pedestrian Accidents

Precise statistics about the role distracted driving plays in pedestrian accidents can be hard to find. That’s because many drivers often claim to not be engaged in activities often associated with distracted driving, including texting while driving and talking on a cell phone.

However, experts studying traffic accident data increasingly believe that distracted driving increasingly contributes to pedestrian accidents. The same experts note that many pedestrians might not be paying attention when they’re struck by a vehicle.

"We are crazy distracted," Geraci said. "After speeding and the failure to yield, distractions are the number three cause [of pedestrian fatalities], particularly by electronic devices."[i]

Overall, distracted driving resulted in the deaths of 3,477 people and 391,000 injuries in motor vehicle accidents in 2015, according go the NHTSA. And while the percentage of people visibly seen using a handheld cellphone has decreased in recent years (from 5.2 percent in 2012 to 3.8 percent in 2015), the percentage of people seen manipulating a handheld electronic device has increased during the same time period (1.5 percent in 2012 to 2.2 percent in 2015), according to the NHTSA.[ii]

In Florida, distracted driving accidents have increasingly become a serious problem in recent years. In 2011, distracted drivers caused 21 traffic fatalities in Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel. By 2015, distracted drivers caused 216 deaths and 45,740 distracted driving accidents in Florida.[iii]

As for Palm Beach County, Tara Kirschner, executive director of the Boca Raton traffic safety organization Dori Saves Lives, agrees that distracted driving has resulted in the recent increase in the number of accidents in Palm Beach County. "The number of things people are doing in their cars now makes no sense," she said. [iv]

Numerous studies have found that texting while driving is more dangerous that drunk driving. A recent study by the Transport Research Laboratory claims a driver’s reaction time is delayed by 37 percent when texting, compared to 13 percent when under the influence of alcohol. That’s because texting while driving diverts a driver’s attention away from the road for an average 4.6 seconds to read or write a text. Traveling at 55 mph, 4.6 seconds would result in a person driving more than the length of a football field without looking at the road.[v]

Pedestrian Accidents in Downtown West Palm Beach, Florida

Pedestrian accidents in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida have been a serious problem for years. A nationwide study conducted by Smart Growth American includes a map of all pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2014. On the map for the West Palm Beach area, several major street and roads had a significant number of pedestrian fatalities. Two of these roads are located in downtown West Palm Bach:

  • Okeechobee Boulevard near Palm Beach County Convention Center
  • Lakeview Avenue near CityPlace

Specifically, there were 47 pedestrian accidents on Okeechobee Boulevard between South Quadrille Boulevard and South Sapodilla Avenue from 2009 to 2013.[i] City officials cited the 40-mph speed limit on Okeechobee Boulevard near Sapodilla and Rosemary avenues as one of the main reasons why so many pedestrian accidents occur in this area. The 12-foot width of the lanes on Okeechobee Boulevard also encourages motorists to drive faster, according to Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Raphael Clemente, who discussed this issue in a 2015 Palm Beach Post newspaper article:

Keeping lanes almost as wide as on an interstate highway only encourages speeding, Clemente adds. That’s a well-studied phenomenon and it’s why there’s a move on nationally to narrow lanes, add shade trees and create a sense of scale in road design, he says. When the lanes are wide and clear, he says, “it’s begging you to go 50.”

Efforts to Reduce Pedestrian Accidents in Florida

Florida has taken numerous steps in recent years to reduce the number of serious and fatal pedestrian accidents. In particular, Florida’s Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office has spearheaded a safety campaign designed to protect pedestrians and cyclists. As part of the plan, the organization has targeted areas where the most fatal and serious pedestrian and bicycle accidents occur in the state.

The state is also “completely rethinking the way roads are designed and built through a Complete Streets approach, which means that the entire transportation system is being planned, designed and built to ensure the safety, mobility, and accessibility of all users.”

Other ongoing improvements designed to improve pedestrian safety in Florida include: [i]

  • Addition of high visibility crosswalks
  • Installation of pedestrian countdown signals
  • Installation of signal timing/leading pedestrian intervals
  • Installation of advanced warning signs
  • Reducing speed limits in areas with a significant number of pedestrian accidents
  • Improving lighting at intersections
  • Creation of public awareness campaign about pedestrian safety.
  • Additional training for emergency first responders geared towards pedestrian injuries
  • Increased police enforcement of pedestrian safety traffic violations.

Efforts to Reduce Pedestrian Accidents in West Palm Beach

In downtown West Palm Beach, particularly near the Palm Beach County Convention Center and Okeechobee Boulevard, recent efforts to reduce the number of pedestrian accidents have included: [i]

  • Petitioning state to reduce speed limit on Okeechobee Boulevard from 40 mph to 35 mph.
  • Urging state to narrow width of lanes on Okeechobee Boulevard from 12 to 10 feet.
  • Requesting developers enlarge ends of median on Okeechobee Boulevard for pedestrians.

In addition, officials in Palm Beach County, Florida have proposed other efforts to reduce pedestrian accidents on Okeechobee Boulevard near the Palm Beach County Convention Center and CityPlace. These recommendations include:

  • Revising traffic signal phasing and “Walk” sign timing to give pedestrians more time to safely cross street.
  • Putting crossing buttons where pedestrians can see and use them more easily, rather than running across the across the street without a “Walk” signal.
  • Adding shelters in median to protect pedestrians from sun and rain while waiting to complete the crossing.
  • Prohibiting eastbound U-turns.
  • Hiring police during conventions.

[i] “State recommends fixes for Okeechobee pedestrian crossing,” Palm Beach Post, Nov. 2, 2015.

Other Possible Ways to Reduce Pedestrian Accidents

There are many other suggestions for reducing the number of pedestrian accidents. Nationwide, many officials agree that some of the best ways to reduce pedestrian accidents include: [i]

  • Reducing speed limits
  • Better road designs
  • More sidewalks
  • Better street lighting
  • Improved technology on vehicles to detect pedestrians.

In Palm Beach County, Florida, other suggestions for improving pedestrian safety include: [ii]

  • Installing protective barriers between vehicles and cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Installing sensors which detect pedestrians and trigger traffic signals.
  • Building wider sidewalks
  • Creating pedestrian refuges in medians.
  • Narrowing certain lanes to create bicycle lanes and reduce traffic speeds.
  • Creating more mid-block crosswalks throughout county.

In addition, some Florida officials believe the state needs to take a tougher stance against distracted driving, one of the most common cause of pedestrian accidents in Florida. Specifically, some Florida officials believe texting while driving should be a “primary offense” rather than a “secondary offense.” As a result, police officers would be able to pull texting drivers over and cite them for violating the state’s texting while driving law. Currently, police officers must have another primary reason (such as speeding or suspicion of drunk driving) in order to stop motorists texting while driving.[iii]

Legal rights

Pedestrians injured in accidents caused by motor vehicles in Palm Beach County have the right to take legal action against the driver who caused their injuries. Under Florida law, injured pedestrians can submit an accident claim or file a pedestrian accident lawsuit seeking financial compensation from the driver or whoever was at fault.[i]

However, in order to successfully obtain financial compensation for pedestrian accident-related injuries, injury victims or surviving family members only have a limited amount of time to take legal action. This deadline (known as the “statute of limitations”) is four years in most cases. If a loved one died in a pedestrian accident, the statute of limitation for taking legal action is two years in most cases.[ii]

In both cases, injury victims or surviving family members may be able to obtain financial compensation for many pedestrian accident-related expenses, including medical bills, lost income and lost future income. Injury victims and their families may also be eligible to receive financial compensation for pain and suffering depending on the circumstances of the accident.

Conclusion

Despite continued efforts to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving, pedestrian accidents caused by distracted drivers remain a serious problem nationwide as well as in West Palm Beach and throughout Florida. As a result, more clearly needs to be done to protect pedestrians and educate drivers about the dangers faced by pedestrians every day, especially on congested city streets in downtown West Palm Beach and other cities in South Florida. In particular, Florida politicians need to adopt legislation which would allow police officers to issue citations to motorists for texting while driving and make such violations a primary offense. Until that happens, distracted driving will likely continue to be a serious problem and contributing factor in many pedestrian accidents in downtown West Palm Beach and across the state.

For more information

Contact West Palm Beach attorney David J. Glatthorn, serving Palm Beach County and South Florida. His law firm handles pedestrian accidents and other personal injury cases. The firm is located in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Attorney David J. Glatthorn
506 Datura St
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Phone: 561-475-1242
Fax: 561-659-9075
Toll Free: 877-958-7922

Sources

[1]Pedestrians and bicyclists,” Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, Statistics as of June 2017.

[2]Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2016 Preliminary Data,” Governors Highway Safety Administration.

[3]Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps cause Record Pedestrian Deaths,” NPR News, All Things Considered, March 30, 2017.

[4]Traffic Safety Performance (Core Outcome) Measures For Florida,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Statistics as of June 2017.

[5] Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps cause Record Pedestrian Deaths,” NPR News, All Things Considered, March 30, 2017.

[6]Walk of death? Florida is the most dangerous place for pedestrians,” Miami Herald, Jan. 10, 2017.

[7]One pedestrian, one cyclist hit on average each day in Palm Beach County,” Sun Sentinel, May 17, 2014.

[8]One pedestrian, one cyclist hit on average each day in Palm Beach County,” Sun Sentinel, May 17, 2014.

[9]Impact Speed and a Pedestrian’s Risk of Severe Injury or Death,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, September 2011.

[10]Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps cause Record Pedestrian Deaths,” NPR News, All Things Considered, March 30, 2017.

[11]Record Number of Miles Driven In U.S. Last Year,” NPR News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[12]Pedestrian Traffic Safety Facts, 2014 Data,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, May 2016.

[13]Pedestrian Traffic Safety Facts, 2014 Data,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, May 2016.

[14]Why People Get Hit: Eight Causes of Pedestrian Accidents,” Dana Henry, Safety Resource Center, April 29, 2013.

[15]Pedestrian Safety Strategic Plan,” University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, May 2010.

[16] Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps cause Record Pedestrian Deaths,” NPR News, All Things Considered, March 30, 2017.

[17]Traffic Safety Facts, Research Note, Driver Electronic Device Use in 2015,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, September 2016.

[18]Commentary: Texting while driving is nothing to ‘LOL’ about,” Orlando Sentinel, March 30, 2017.

[19]Palm Beach County sees surge in traffic deaths in 2015,” Sun Sentinel, Aug. 27, 2015.

[20]Commentary: Texting while driving is nothing to ‘LOL’ about,” Orlando Sentinel, March 30, 2017.

[21]State recommends fixes for Okeechobee pedestrian crossing,” Palm Beach Post, Nov. 2, 2015.

[22]Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2016 Preliminary Data,” Governors Highway Safety Administration.

[23]State recommends fixes for Okeechobee pedestrian crossing,” Palm Beach Post, Nov. 2, 2015.

[24] Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps cause Record Pedestrian Deaths,” NPR News, All Things Considered, March 30, 2017.

[25] One pedestrian, one cyclist hit on average each day in Palm Beach County,” Sun Sentinel, May 17, 2014.

[26]Commentary: Texting while driving is nothing to ‘LOL’ about,” Orlando Sentinel, March 30, 2017.

[27]Pedestrian Accidents,” West Palm Beach Pedestrian Accident Lawyer David J. Glatthorn.

[28]Frequently Asked Questions About Pedestrian Accidents,” West Palm Beach Pedestrian Accident Lawyer David J. Glatthorn.

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