On how dangerous it is to walk down the street

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As a physician with many non-physician friends, I get a lot of questions for advice on health-related topics. I’m sure you, as someone involved in patient care, hear the same.

Do I need antibiotics for a cold? (No.)

Do I really need to wear a seatbelt all the time? (Yes.)

Is drinking alcohol good for me? (We’re not sure.)

One question I never get is: Will I die walking down the street?

Sadly, yes. You might.

Griffin Myers, MD

Griffin Myers, MD

And as a group of trauma professionals who think about injury prevention, we should know a bit more about the over 110,000 patients who present — and more than 5,000 patients who die — every year after being struck as a pedestrian or bicyclist.

Back in 2013 a group of researchers at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York conducted a study to answer that very question. They collected data on all pedestrians and bicyclists who came to the Level I trauma center within 24 hours of being struck by a motor vehicle. Data was collected prospectively over a two-and-a-half year period. What they found was, well, striking.

There were a total of 1,471 of these patients, but the researchers cut out 14 of them because they were riding other stuff: skateboards (8), pedicabs (3), roller skates (2) and a tricycle (1). That left 1,457 folks either walking or biking who were struck by cars. Those 1,457 were made up of 1,075 (74%) pedestrians and 382 (26%) bicyclists. Who were these patients?

Let’s take the pedestrians first. Most folks were between 18 and 40, with the most common age being in one’s 20s. They were roughly 50/50 male/female. Most pedestrians (90.7%) were struck while in the street. Of those pedestrians struck in the street, 77% were in the act of crossing. Of those, 44% were in the crosswalk with the “walk” signal when struck. Of those pedestrians in the crosswalk with the signal, 67% were hit by turning cars. A little more than 1% of all the accident victims died.

Now the bicyclists. They were a little younger but still mostly between 18 and 40. Among all bicyclists, 43% were working, meaning they were bike messengers/couriers, and 80% were male. Only 30% were wearing a helmet. In terms of traffic flow, 82% were riding with traffic, 9% against and 22% were in a special bike lane. And 15% were “doored,” meaning they collided with a car door being opened in front of them. About 1% of all accidents were fatal.

Now for some summary data on both groups:

  • Not surprisingly, most accidents occurred during the daytime. In other news, more shark attacks happen in California than in Kansas. (There are just more people and cars out during the daytime.)
  • Being overweight was protective…meaning the fat was a cushion.
  • 12% of all accidents involved alcohol in either the victim or the driver.
  • 8% were using some kind of electronic device (e.g., an iPhone) during the event.

So what do we do with all that and what does it mean for those of us in the business of injury prevention?

Stay on the sidewalk if you can. And remember somehow 10% of pedestrians were still struck by cars on the sidewalk and not in the road.

Cross in crosswalks. That’s the place society has agreed you should cross, and no one should ever be in that big a hurry.

Watch out for turning cars. You are not in front of them yet, so they aren’t looking for you.

Try not to be a bike messenger. It may look like fun, but it’s really hard work and a little dangerous.

Wear a helmet. I’ve written on this before, and vanity is not a good reason to avoid brain protection.

Ride with the flow of traffic. Again, you don’t want to surprise someone driving a 3,000-pound machine at you going 35 miles an hour.

It’s not worth being overweight just in case you get hit by a car. I love the irony of “good fat,” but it’s not worth the cardiovascular disease risk and the effect seems small anyway.

Pay attention. “Distracted walking” is a real thing, so avoid being too engrossed in what’s on the screen of your smartphone or having the headphones turned up so loudly that you can’t hear horns and other warnings.

Drink responsibly. I can’t tell you not to drink and walk, I suppose.

Now when your friends ask, “Will I die walking down the street?” — your answer can be more than a qualified “maybe.”

Dr. Griffin Myers is a board certified emergency physician, entrepreneur, and nationally recognized thought leader in healthcare innovation and value-based care. His writings do not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. No patient relationship is created by your use of this content. You can find this and other media at his website: www.griffinmyers.com.