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Pedestrian Accident in Reno Takes the Life of Nevada Federal Judge

U.S District Court Judge Larry R. Hicks was hit by a car and killed outside the federal courthouse in Reno Nevada on the afternoon of May 30, at 80 years old. Hicks was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, and was a pillar in the Reno community—serving as district attorney, then prosecutor in the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office since 1968 until his appointment as federal judge, as well as serving as senior district judge since 2013.

The accident occurred in the pedestrian-heavy area of Midtown, near the federal courthouse, as Hicks was walking through an intersection. The driver stayed at the scene of the crash and Hicks was taken to the hospital where he was later declared dead. Reno police reported that impairment was not a factor, and the driver is cooperating with the ongoing investigation. [1]

Pedestrian Fatalities on Crosswalks in Nevada

Judge Hicks was crossing the street at a marked crosswalk when he was hit by a vehicle—unfortunately this story isn’t uncommon in Nevada. In a study published earlier this year, Nevada ranks first in the nation for the highest percentage of pedestrian crosswalk deaths. [2] Between 2017 and 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that more than four-hundred pedestrians have been involved in fatal crashes, with about two hundred (44.8 percent) of that total occurring on marked crosswalks. In early May, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reported that a pedestrian walking in a crosswalk suffered life-threatening injuries. While a RTC bus had stopped for the pedestrian, an oncoming Chevrolet passed the bus, and failed to yield to the pedestrian who was crossing. [3]

Yet this upward trend in pedestrian fatalities isn’t just limited to Nevada as it is a national pattern. A study from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) notes that between 2010 and 2020, pedestrian fatalities increased seventy-seven percent, a steep difference from the twenty-five percent increase in all other traffic death types. [4] Nationally, 7,508 pedestrians were killed in traffic in 2022, the highest number since 1981, with many of the deaths occurring while pedestrians crossed legally. While the GHSA has yet to release official 2023 stats, a New York Times survey of local news reporting from the past year suggests that 2023 set another year of record pedestrian deaths. [5]

The Rise of Heavy-Duty Vehicles and Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities

A Bloomberg study reported that since 1990 U.S pickup trucks have increased in weight by nearly a ton and a half, with some of the largest personal-vehicles weighing seven-thousand pounds (for reference, this is triple the weight of a Honda Civic). By 2020, the number of people who brought pick-up trucks exceeded those who purchased other vehicles, and five out of ten of the top-selling vehicles in the United States were pickup trucks. [6]

So how can this possibly correlate with traffic deaths and fatalities?

The increase in the weight, as well as number of these heavy-duty vehicles on the road has put more vulnerable populations like pedestrians and bikers at risk, primarily due to the disparity in size between them. A popular model of the Chevy Silverado or the Ford-250’s front end reaches a grown man’s shoulder or neck. An average sized toddler (37-42.5 inches) barely clears the bumper of similar raised vehicles. In addition to the disparity in size, vehicles of this scale usually have large front and rear blind zones, severely reducing the visibility of pedestrians, bikers, and even smaller vehicles.

Reduced visibility is just the tip of the iceberg, and the increase in weight of SUVs and heavy-duty vehicles alike has made them more dangerous during inclement weather like snow and rain. The high weight of these large vehicles makes them harder to control when on ice or hydroplaning, and quick maneuvers in such vehicles can result in disaster for both the driver and others on the road in the event of a truck accident. Additionally, a study conducted by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have pointed out another troubling trend—women (who are more likely to purchase smaller vehicles) suffer higher injury and death rates than their male counterparts, despite the fact women engage in less risky driving and are less likely to crash [7].

So what can be done?

Some proponents of pedestrian safety have suggested a vehicle weight tax to deter consumers from the purchase of larger vehicles. However, as trucks and larger SUVS become more popular, it is also important to adapt to the times and update Nevada infrastructure accordingly, and an emphasis on safety over speed should be considered by city planners and traffic engineers. This includes infrastructure such as traffic speed cameras, roundabouts, and other methods that force vehicles to slow down significantly, thus reducing the impact on a pedestrian if a collision were to happen.

Additionally, eighty-seven percent of fatal pedestrian crashes are caused by driver error, and if you do drive a larger vehicle, it is important to be more diligent of your reduced visibility. While many vehicles come with cameras and crash sensors, it is important to check your surroundings yourself and be aware that there are others on the road including pedestrians and bikers.









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