Pedestrian Deaths Ballooned Against Miles Driven Last Year

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released the latest data pertaining to U.S. pedestrian fatalities — indicating that the largest-ever annual increase since we started keeping track in 1975. While the data is preliminary, the association estimated there were 6,721 pedestrian deaths in 2020. It’s a 4.8 percent increase over 2019 and not all that impressive until you realize most people basically gave up their normal driving routine during lockdowns. According to the GHSA, adjusting for miles driven actually results in an annual increase of 21 percent.

It’s genuinely creepy and kind of perplexing with everyone staying isolated. But we’re not going to recommend you start wearing high visibility jackets whenever you leave your home because the mathematical likelihood of being crushed by an automobile remains incredibly low.

The pedestrian fatality rate of 2.2 per billion vehicle miles traveled (through the first half of 2020) may represent a sizable rise over the same period in 2019, but it’s also relatively slight in terms of daily hazards. Slip-and-fall accidents take out roughly 17,000 every year and murders average around 15,000 — substantially more than the 6,721 people that perished on the streets in 2020.

But we’re just trying to offer some perspective, not ignore what appears to be a growing problem.

“Reckless driving was really impacting pedestrian safety during the pandemic and that is mind boggling to us because we know that vehicle miles traveled dropped,” Pam Shadel Fischer, the Governors Highway Safety Association’s senior director of external engagement, told ABC News in a recent interview.

From ABC:

Earlier this year, the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit focused on promoting safety in the United States, said despite a 13 [percent] drop in miles driven in 2020, the estimated rate of death on the roads last year spiked 24 [percent] over the previous 12-month period.

“We believe that the open roads really gave drivers an open invitation marked open season on reckless driving,” Maureen Vogel, director of communications at NSC, said in an interview with ABC News at the time.

Despite the overall increases, GHSA found that 19 states saw decreases in the number of pedestrian deaths in 2020, with 11 states, including Maine, Hawaii and Delaware, reporting double-digit declines.

We’re inclined to disagree that it’s simply a matter of open roads causing the problem. Urban environments are, by far, the areas where the most pedestrian fatalities take place, and many of the states that saw the largest declines were actually places that previously had some of the highest fatality rates per 100,000 people. If there’s a common trait between the regions that have seen a noteworthy increase or decrease in pedestrian deaths, it’s well incredibly well hidden.

The only thing we can say for certain is that warmer states typically have more pedestrian deaths by nature of having a populace that’s spending more time outdoors. It’s also possible that the nicer climate makes drivers more aggressive, much like how crime goes up during the summer months.

[Image: Room 76/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 37 comments
  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on May 24, 2021

    I thought everybody died of Covid Last year regardless of what the actual cause was.

  • John Yost John Yost on May 24, 2021

    The key metric could be pedestrian miles walked. During covid walking and running and cycling for exercise increased.

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