Why Do So Many Atlanta Pedestrians Get Killed in March and September?

January 14, 2013

Thumbnail image for Pedestrian sign.jpgEach year a large percentage of the people killed in Atlanta car accidents are pedestrians. In 2009, for example, Atlanta had 45 traffic deaths and 13 of those deaths were of pedestrians. In looking at the details behind the numbers, however, I noticed something that really surprised me: the vast majority of these deaths occurred in just two months. Nine of the 13 pedestrians were killed during just the months of March and September.

As a lawyer who represents families in Atlanta pedestrian death lawsuits, I was puzzled over why that would be and whether we could lower that number.

I looked at the FARS data for deadly accidents in Atlanta, as published on City-Data.com. FARS stands for Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and is a compilation by the federal government of traffic reports on fatal accidents from all over the county. The data shows that more than a quarter of the 45 fatal crashes -- 13 in all - involved pedestrians. Only one of these pedestrian deaths occurred in a winter month, which makes sense, since people are more likely to be walking outside in the warmer months of the year. The remainder of the deaths occurred in March, April, July, August, September, when Atlanta tends to be warm.

The data also shows that nearly all of Atlanta's pedestrian deaths occur in the dark, when pedestrians are hardest to see. Only three of the 13 Atlanta pedestrians who were killed by cars were killed in wrecks that clearly occurred in daylight hours. A January 30th pedestrian death occurred at 1:38 in the afternoon. A pedestrian was killed by a car at 6:33 p.m. on August 15th, and another died after being struck at 2:46 pm on September 15, 2009. A fourth pedestrian was killed in what probably was the twilight hours of the evening, at 5:41 in the evening of April 24, 2009. Only than the first three exceptions, and the questionable fourth instance, the remaining pedestrians all died while they were walking after dark.

The point was especially true in March, when all five of the accidents occurred after dark. Probably one of the factors in why those months are so dangerous is the mismatch between warm weather and daylight hours here in Atlanta. Atlanta starts getting warmer in March (although the weather is pretty unpredictable!), and has plenty of days when people would not mind being outside walking. In September, the weather is near-perfect, and everyone wants to be outside walking. But the weather gets warm way before the number of daylight hours catches up.

That fact made me wonder whether Atlanta would be better off dusting off Daylight Savings Time a bit earlier and starting it in March, in order to ensure that more people are walking during daylight hours.

Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is probably not. The pedestrians who were killed in Atlanta car wrecks in March all died long after daylight had slipped away. One was killed at 8:26 p.m., one at 9:23 p.m., one at 9:26 p.m., a fourth at 10:30 p.m., and the fifth and final victim was killed in a car crash that occurred at 1:25 a.m. With the possible exception of the 8:26 p.m. crash, none of those wrecks occurred at a time when Atlanta would be getting daylight even if Daylight Savings Time had been instituted.