Pedestrian deaths have been on the rise statewide over the past few years, but Reno has seen another disturbing trend with pedestrian deaths— a rise in homeless pedestrian deaths. Reno Police Lieutenant Michael Browett called this increase in deaths “new, odd, and disturbing”.
There were seven pedestrian deaths in Reno in 2022, an increase from 2021, where only four pedestrians were killed. Of the seven victims, five of them were either unhoused or had insecure housing according to medical examiner reports. Additionally, the majority of these accidents were listed as being the pedestrian’s fault. The context of these accidents is more heartbreaking— Miranda Birdsong was dancing with a traffic cone when a car struck her. Michael Rocha laid his sleeping bag down near a roadway when he was struck by a car. David Gulley took a nap behind a parked car before it crushed him. Lieutenant Browett noted that most of these homeless victims were hanging out on the roadway or crossing outside a crosswalk at the time of their death, and made no effort to move or evade a vehicle, leading the Reno Police Department to believe that mental health may be an underlying factor in several of the incidences.
The Washoe County Examiner’s office collects the bodies and determines causes of death for these vehicle/pedestrian accidents. Operations manager, Justin Norton, stated that they only rule pedestrian deaths suicide if they have video of evidence of the pedestrian purposefully placing themselves in the path of a vehicle; however he stated that road suicides are not unheard of. During the pandemic, his office, as well as statewide, there were a cluster of road suicides many of which involved homeless or housing insecure individuals.
Bringing Mental Health Resources to Traffic Safety
Lieutenant Michael Browett and the Reno Police Department are treating this issue as both a traffic safety and mental health crisis. The way he sees it, safer roads cannot be created without addressing the underlying and systemic issues. While he says his mental health resources are limited, Browett attempts to refer erratic pedestrians to mental health services at the local hospital or to the Washoe County Detention Facility. However, after the individual receives assistance, there is not much law enforcement can do since they cannot track their whereabout to ensure that the services worked.
Other changes include traffic safety, and Reno has become the first city in Nevada to create “pedestrian safety zones” which are marked, pedestrian-heavy streets, where fines are doubled, and speed limits are considerably slower. The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) has also gotten involved with road engineering in areas where pedestrian deaths have spiked, and NDOT is working with the city to identify areas with a lot of foot traffic to create more of these safety zones.
Besides these changes, the Reno Police Department has also reduced fatalities through education and enforcement. Drivers are advised to treat areas with homeless pedestrians as they would a school zone and be respectful of all those we share the road with.
Lieutenant Browett admits that Reno was not prepared to handle homeless pedestrian deaths last year, and he acknowledged that the city must create systemic solutions to solve this issue. However, Reno’s situation can help other cities in Nevada and across the country with similar homelessness and traffic safety issues learn and create change. 
Pedestrian Safety in Nevada
Pedestrian safety is not an issue that just plagues Northern Nevada, and in 2021, there were 58 pedestrian lives lost in the entire state, an increase from the prior year’s numbers .
Being a pedestrian makes one more vulnerable to traffic accidents, and more than seventeen percent of traffic deaths were pedestrians in 2020. Additionally, all age groups of pedestrians are vulnerable, though those between forty-five and seventy-four have a 20 percent more likely chance of suffering a pedestrian fatality. However, responsibility for pedestrian safety lies in the hands of both the pedestrians and the drivers. The following are some things to keep in mind as a pedestrian:
- Walk on the sidewalk or marked areas for pedestrians whenever possible. If there is no sidewalk available, walk facing traffic so you are more visible.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals. Utilize cross street and cross walks, as those are in place for your safety in mind.
- If a crosswalk is unavailable and your view is blocked, move to a place where you can see oncoming traffic better.
- Look both directions before crossing the street and make eye contact with the driver of oncoming vehicles to ensure they see you.
- Don’t be distracted— Do not be on your phone or have headphones in. This can cause you to miss what is happening around you or having a slower reaction time.
- Avoid walking on roadways when under the influence
- It is best to have children younger than 10 years old to have an adult escort them across the street.
As a driver keep the following in mind:
- Be aware and follow the posted speed limits, especially in areas like school zones or traffic safety zones.
- Be cautious and aware of pedestrians at all times, especially when visibility is low or when backing up.
- Yield to pedestrians and make eye contact to show that you see them.
- DO NOT pass other vehicles stopped at crosswalks.
- Avoid distracted driving and stay alert
- Do not drink and drive