Pedestrian Death Emphasizes the Need for Increased Foot Traffic Safety in DC

By Peter DePaolis

Pedestrian accidents happen every day around the United States. Distracted drivers and unsafe crosswalks are two of the most common reasons vehicles collide with pedestrians. In a metropolitan region such as Washington, DC, pedestrian accidents are especially frequent. The number of pedestrians having to interact with vehicles daily increases the risk of collisions. Recently, the tragic death of Abdul Seck in DC has further emphasized the need for better safety measures for the city’s pedestrians.

Washington, DC Street Safety Issues

Thousands of people walk through the streets of the nation’s capitol daily. Many are tourists, while others are residents and commuters. About 49% of workers in DC commute or walk to work, according to the District Department of Transportation. The most recent year available, 1,203 pedestrians were involved in pedestrian accidents in Washington, DC. The most common age group for pedestrian crash victims in DC was 21 to 30. Sixty of these pedestrians suffered disabling injuries, while 15 did not survive the accidents.

Street and traffic safety experts believe the high risk of pedestrian accidents in Washington, DC traces back to a few different reasons. One, the high number of pedestrians walking the streets of DC increases the risk of collisions. Two, the streets contain defects that make them unreasonably dangerous for pedestrians. These defects include cracked sidewalks, faded crosswalks, lack of crossing lights, and poorly designed intersections. Third, the number of distracted drivers has increased over the last several years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that distracted drivers in the U.S. caused 3,166 traffic accident deaths in 2017. Distracted driving is a serious issue that plagues cities such as DC. Cellphone use is the most common – and most dangerous – form of driver distraction. Drivers using their cellphones behind the wheel can easily strike pedestrians from failure to pay attention, failure to yield the right-of-way, delayed reaction times, or losing control of the vehicle. Increasing foot traffic safety will require fundamental changes in the way DC’s streets operate.

Honoring Abdul Seck With Change to DC’s Streets

On Easter Sunday in 2019, a driver struck and killed 31-year-old Abdul Seck, who was trying to cross 16th Street Southeast in Washington, DC. Seck was visiting during the Easter holiday from New York. Police called one of Seck’s friends, Ebony Munnerlyn, to identify the body at the hospital. Days later, two men worked together to paint a pedestrian crosswalk on the street, just blocks down from where a driver killed Seck. Although it is against the law for citizens to paint or install new crosswalks, the two men (who met at Seck’s vigil) said they felt compelled to act.

One of the men said it was a project he could complete safely, without putting himself or anyone else at risk. He used a high-visibility vest to wear while painting the new crosswalk; a project he said took less than two hours. The crosswalk will hopefully improve pedestrian safety on this stretch of street, which is known for its lack of pedestrian amenities. Further down on 16th street, a flashing light warns drivers to slow their speeds – but a utility pole makes it difficult for drivers to see the warning light. The street also has a “Blind Pedestrian” sign…but no crosswalk, until the two citizens painted one themselves in honor of Seck.

People throughout Washington, DC are advocating for better street safety. Many believe the answer is installing more crosswalks, fixing existing infrastructure issues, and getting drivers to slow down in areas where people commonly walk. Currently, many roads in DC have designs that encourage speeding. Implementing new design elements could reduce speeds, encourage drivers to yield the right-of-way to crossing pedestrians, and ideally prevent future pedestrian-vehicle collisions like the one that took Abdul Seck’s life.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.