U.S. Pedestrian Deaths Reach Highest Level in Decades

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
u s pedestrian deaths reach highest level in decades

While the preliminary data from the National Safety Council shows 2019 being a safer year for cars operating in America, its report noted continued concerns regarding pedestrian safety. Additional data gleaned from the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) assessment of pedestrian deaths by state shows that those traveling outside of cars aren’t enjoying the same safety enhancements as those sitting comfortably inside the cabin.

Its report estimates that 6,590 pedestrians were killed in 2019. The figure represents a 5-percent increase from 2018 and is the largest number of deaths the United States has seen since 1988. The situation, however, isn’t as simple as the big numbers suggest. Despite pedestrian fatalities gradually creeping up since 2009, only 30 states actually saw an increase in their total number of deaths last year. The GHSA now projects a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.0 per 100,000 people. While that’s also the highest rate the country has seen in years, it’s actually far lower than automobile fatalities — which currently averages around 11.0 per a population of 100,000.

The biggest culprit, according to the GHSA, is poor infrastructure. A large majority of the accidents were said to take place at night in areas that lack posted crosswalks or proper illumination. In fact, nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased 67 percent through the past decade, compared to just 16 percent during the daytime. That said, the report also asks states to continue collaborating with local law enforcement to “address chronic driver violations that contribute to pedestrian crashes such as speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving.”

There seems to be little need for any action in states like Vermont — which only reported a singular pedestrian death last year — but other regions may be in need of help. Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas were faulted as the states contributing to the problem the most, accounting for 47 percent of all recorded incidents in 2019. However, this too needs to be unpacked for a clearer understanding.

Arizona and Georgia actually enjoyed some of the largest improvements in public safety, with both reporting double-digit declines in both the number and percent change in pedestrian fatalities vs 2018. The rest have higher populations than other states.

Meanwhile, New Mexico had the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident population overall — despite its total number of fatalities being fairly modest vs other states.

While the Governors Highway Safety Association recommends law enforcement crack down and towns improve their roadways, it also acknowledges that not a lot can be done to light long stretches of rural roads. For that, it said states should lean into public outreach and improving driver education (something we’re very much for). It also says that elevated levels of bicycle- and walking-related incidents could easily be the result of higher cell phone usage, noting that the reported number of smartphones in active use in the U.S. increased by over 400 percent between 2009 and 2018.

Distracted driving (or walking) is frequently listed as a secondary cause in safety reports, but it always feels like it should be given more prevalence. While we were glad to see the GHSA giving phone use some attention, we wish they’d have done the same for in-car infotainment. As screens grow larger and sprout more features and function, multimedia systems continue asking for more of our attention; it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this also contributes to the degradation of safety in some meaningful way.

The complete report is loaded with additional safety recommendations and further breaks down data between states. If you’ve a mind for statistical analysis and care about the topic, it’s worth a look.

[Image: Room 76/Shutterstock]

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  • PentastarPride PentastarPride on Feb 28, 2020

    I've flown out to a few large cities on business and have driven around these places, much to my chagrin, between the regional office and my hotel or some other destination. Without fail, people jaywalk, walk right into traffic as if they were invincible or had a death wish, or simply neglected to pay attention as they were too bothered to look up from their phone. A few times I was sitting behind, in front of or opposite a police car and whoever was inside didn't even bother nipping this in the bud. I don't notice this problem too much at home (Utah Valley) as my job's "home base" is right off I-15, as well as most anywhere else I may need to go, plus I live in a semi-rural area, right off a two-lane 15 miles from the freeway with no provisions for pedestrians or bikes. 95% of my driving is on or right off of I-15, which I love. I couldn't put up with inner-city drivers or pedestrians day in and day out.

  • Jeff Semenak Jeff Semenak on Mar 01, 2020

    My problem as a pedestrian is the right turn on red. People driving up to the red light, look to their left for traffic. When their light turns green, they turn without noticing the pedestrian crossing with the walk signal. You may say wait for the car. Many lights barely allow enough time to cross the street as it is. Now what? Stand there for an hour to cross?

    • See 3 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Mar 01, 2020

      JimC2 for traffic commissioner ! . This is the plain truth although no one wants to look into the mirror and admit it . Interestingly enough the mowed down pedestrians in marked crosswalks with BIG FLASHING LIGHTS is such a problem in Glendale, Ca. that the GPD routinely does stings where officers attempt to cross the street, some in uniform, some not, often times wearing Santa or Easter Bunny suits and guess what ? the _same_ socioeconomic group nearly kills all of them every time, they don't have the cultural awareness to learn from the ticket$ . The mayor of this fine (sarc.) burg is a member of this same group and when caught in criminal acts had the temerity to loudly denounce the authorities for having the nerve to prosecute him . Driving is a _privilege_ not a right, you'd be wise to hone your skills . -Nate

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