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Pedestrian Deaths Spike in U.S. as Reckless Driving Surges

The streets of Albuquerque, where Pronoy Bhattacharya was killed in the hit-and-run, showcase the challenges that pedestrians face. Around the sprawling metro area, home to almost one million people, drivers routinely run red lights or speed past stop signs. Cars without license plates abound on Albuquerque’s roads.

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

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

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

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 racing home in separate vehicles, “a game in their relationship,” according to a court filing. In another recent tragedy, sheriff’s deputies said the driver of a Ford pickup truck was street racing at 90 miles per hour when he slammed into a car pulling out of a Roman Catholic abbey, killing a 35-year-old priest.

Across the country, overall traffic fatalities — not just crashes killing pedestrians — are also rising at a record pace. Nearly 32,000 people were killed in vehicle crashes in the first nine months of 2021, a 12 percent increase from the same period in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It was the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of any year since 2006 and the highest percentage increase during the first nine months in the reporting system’s history.

In the crash that killed Pronoy, the driver was at the helm of an all-terrain vehicle. Such vehicles are illegal on Albuquerque streets but are still commonly seen around the city. Video footage showed the driver, Sergio Almanza, drinking at a bar before the crash.

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