Pedestrian deaths are on the rise in the US as reckless driving rises

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The streets of Albuquerque, where Pronoy Bhattacharya was killed in a hit-and-run, show the challenges pedestrians face. Around the sprawling metro area, which is home to almost a million people, motorists routinely run red lights or speed past stop signs. Albuquerque’s streets are teeming with unlicensed cars.

Despite such behavior, local residents say they can go years without drivers being pulled over for violations of any kind. After the boy’s death, readers flooded the Albuquerque Journal with emails attacking local authorities after observing lawless driving on a daily basis.

Steve Schackley, 72, said he hasn’t seen more than a few traffic delays in the 16 years he’s been in the city. “People do what they want when there’s almost no enforcement,” said Mr. Shackley, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Aggressive drivers are occasionally caught. In October, police arrested a 26-year-old man who was reportedly drunk, carrying a handgun and driving at a speed of 140 miles per hour on one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Street racing is another problem. When a woman was arrested in 2020 after killing a pedestrian on Central Avenue, her boyfriend told officers they were speeding home in separate vehicles, “a play on their relationship,” according to a court filing. In another recent tragedy, sheriff’s deputies said the driver of a Ford pickup truck was traveling at 90 miles per hour on the road when he crashed into a car pulling out of a Roman Catholic abbey and killed a 35- year-old priest killed.

Across the country, total road fatalities – not just accidents involving fatal pedestrians – are also rising at a record pace. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 32,000 people were killed in vehicle accidents in the first nine months of 2021, a 12 percent increase from the same period in 2020. It was the highest number of fatalities in the first nine months of any year since 2006 and the highest percentage increase in the first nine months in the history of the reporting system.

In the accident that killed Pronoy, the driver was behind the wheel of an SUV. Such vehicles are illegal on Albuquerque streets but are still commonly seen around the city. Video footage showed driver Sergio Almanza drinking in a bar before the accident.

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