By on May 20, 2021

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]

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37 Comments on “Pedestrian Deaths Ballooned Against Miles Driven Last Year...”


  • avatar
    MKizzy

    ” It’s also possible that the nicer climate makes drivers more aggressive, much like how crime goes up during the summer months.”

    We can also assume lighter pandemic traffic has more pedestrians, who are already more likely to be distracted by their smartphones, being a little less cautious around motor vehicles while walking near or even inside of roadways.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Good point. We’ve been amassing data that drivers are getting more distracted by the multimedia systems installed in modern cars and increased phone usage, there’s no reason to think pedestrians aren’t whipping out their mobile devices more frequently as well.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I agree, and my initial thought was that you could just as easily have said, “most people basically gave up their normal WALKING routine during lockdowns”. It’s quite possible that more people were out walking around at times they were not used to. Or, with so many people supposedly relocating during the pandemic, maybe they walked around areas unfamiliar to them and didn’t know what trouble spots to avoid. Don’t forget the masks. Masks can make people’s glasses fog up and some drivers and pedestrians probably could not see the hazards! As well as that, a mask may contribute to a general sense of introversion, reducing situational awareness. There are many possible factors, and the quoted PR person’s attributing all of it to reckless driving is lazy.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        There should be a special burden on the person controlling the extremely heavy, fast-moving machine, compared to the person who’s just walking in the street. A distracted walker is not a danger to anyone but himself, while a distracted or reckless driver is a danger to everyone (whether inside or outside a car) in the general vicinity.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          +1.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          Yes, dal20402, no argument there. I was simply examining possible factors affecting the statistical change, not prescribing solutions.

        • 0 avatar
          Norman Stansfield

          You have it backwards: It is incumbent on the pedestrian NOT to get hit. In a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian, the pedestrian always loses; since they have the most to lose, they have to be more cautious by:
          -Paying attention to your surroundings. You get killed by a car because you’re in you phone, we’ll just chalk that up to natural selection. The world is better off without you.
          -Walk on the sidewalk when possible.
          -If you must share the road with cars, walk opposite of traffic. Two sets of eyeballs looking out are better that one, and as a pedestrian, you can keep an eye on what’s coming at you.
          -Evaluate your route. If you’re walking for exercise a little though can reduce your risk. For example, don’t walk on the outside of a turn: that’s where momentum is taking a car. Walk on the inside of a turn, where momentum is taking a car away from you.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Norman, your attitude is nothing more than “might makes right” bullish!t. We have society instead of warlordism because we are better than that.

            When you’re driving a car, you’re projecting a guided missile at very high speeds through public spaces. That’s an inherently dangerous thing to do and it puts you under a special duty to be cautious. Streets are for everyone and sometimes there are things other than cars (like kids, dogs, milk crates, or, yes, distracted people) in them. If you drive with the attitude that it is you doing the dangerous thing, you can almost always avoid them safely.

          • 0 avatar

            Cross at the Green, Not in-between….
            Why is this so hard ?
            Predictable for drivers, safer for peds.
            Sorry, I spend too much time in NYC watching people cross mid street, eyes locked on phone….and I know VZ insists that peds/bikes have zero responsiblity for their own safety..insanity as public policy.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            It’s not the pedestrian creating the danger, it’s the car creating the danger. Drivers should drive accordingly. Expecting things to be “predictable,” if you’re a driver, is just another word for not paying attention.

            I’ve been driving in big cities for 25 years and have never hit a pedestrian. You can do the same, or you can make excuses for your own lack of care.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Disagree, when jaywalking a pedestrian brings danger upon themselves. This does not excuse a driver’s responsibilities to be alert, and if a driver fails at this it is no different than if they hit another car or stationary object. However the pedestrian chooses not only to break the law but put himself in a place where he knows cars and other vehicles are in motion. Ditto for the pedestal bikers – who cannot generally even keep up with traffic btw.

          • 0 avatar
            Norman Stansfield

            You are responsible for your own safety. Pedestrians need to look after themselves. Think of it this way: As you lay in your hospital bed, looking at the wheelchair you’re going to spend the rest of your life in, it is small comfort to know that the driver that hit you may face a fine, and that their insurance will pay for some of your care.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Nice try, but zero pity for jaywalkers. If you’re too lazy to find (and wait for) a crosswalk it simply demonstrates Darwin in action.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I think it would be very telling to see a breakdown of the vehicles involved in pedestrian deaths by year. The distractions are there for sure, but I would place money on the fact that the ballooning average vehicle size in the US is the biggest factor. Pedestrians who would have rolled up on the hood in the past are now plastered on four foot high (or higher) grills. Visibility of near objects is probably compromised in many taller vehicles as well.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      The ballooning size also impacts visibility.

      It’s harder to see small (aka short or little) people or animals driving a pick-up truck, so it’s easier to run them over.

      Yes, people do walk and talk, and WALK AND TEXT. They are pretty zoned out. 7-8 years ago, my otherwise healthy 91 year old uncle was at a city intersection waiting to cross, when a 30-something WALKED INTO HIM! He knocked over the old man, who broke his hip bone. He was not the same after that, and was gone about a year later.

      I’d say the biggest cause are pedestrians themselves. I guess nowadays people aren’t taught things like “the red light doesn’t stop the car, so wait till it’s stopped before crossing” or “in a collision with a machine, the human always loses”

      So, perhaps it’s time to ban pedestrians–make it illegal to walk anywhere but sidewalks and crossings–no walking in the street. Crime should go down too, as a bonus.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “It’s harder to see small (aka short or little) people or animals driving a pick-up truck, so it’s easier to run them over.”

        Ban CUVs!!!

        “Yes, people do walk and talk, and WALK AND TEXT. They are pretty zoned out.”

        I could have seriously injured a girl walking through the crosswalk -giant “phone” to face- during DO NOT WALK had I been going faster or driving a vehicle with sh!tty brakes (I know better than to speed downtown).

        “make it illegal to walk anywhere but sidewalks and crossings–no walking in the street.”

        May vary but I thought this was already true and the misdemeanor of jay walking is the offence? Evolved idea: grant automatic civil immunity to any driver who injures a jaywalker.

        https://www.penneylawyers.com/car-accidents/what-is-jaywalking-and-is-it-illegal

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Making it easier to drive and harder to walk is exactly the wrong direction for cities, which don’t have room for more cars and need more people to walk or use other modes if they’re going to grow. Slow down the cars. You do that by narrowing lanes and synchronizing lights to reward slow speeds.

        Meanwhile, abolish jaywalking laws, which are used to hassle black and brown people far more often than they’re used to promote safety.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Granted I’ve only been in a few larger cities but eventually population density crosses a certain point and its just people on top of people. I’d rather not be in, let alone live in, a place comparable to the cities in “The Fifth Element”.

          The city I am familiar with is entirely too dense, during the work day at least, and physically has nowhere else to grow on the peninsula. If anything, it needs to shrink.

          “abolish jaywalking laws”

          Not difficult to walk to the end of the block where the crosswalks are located and failing to do so is simply lazy.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      This is correct, and another factor is that newer vehicles mask speed from the driver more. Quiet, lack of road feel, and high ride height—all characteristics of new cars—all reduce the sensation of speed. Drivers of newer big vehicles are more likely in my experience to drive inappropriately fast in crowded environments.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Another excellent point and we’ve certainly seen reports suggesting the popularity of larger vehicles have made accidents involving pedestrians less survivable. It’s extremely difficult to get a accurate (or any) breakdown of the types of vehicles involved. But we can assume that, since SUVs and crossovers are more popular than ever, they’re also involved in more incidents.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        “It’s extremely difficult to get a[n] accurate (or any) breakdown of the types of vehicles involved.”

        Data:
        cdan.nhtsa.gov/query

        Beginner level:
        • Select “Pedestrians” tab
        • Select a “Sample Query” from the list on the right-hand side of the page
        • Hit “Submit” at the bottom of the page

        Beginner-level conclusions (no speculation required):
        • Roughly 1/4 “Pedestrians Killed in Fatal Crashes” were at an intersection
        • More than 2/3 of “Pedestrians Killed in Fatal Crashes” are Male
        • Roughly 2/3 of “Pedestrians Involved in Fatal Crashes” are completely sober
        • Weekend ‘daylight’ hours are the ‘safest’ time to be a pedestrian

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Data:
          cdan.nhtsa.gov/query

          Intermediate level:
          • Note that you can modify any of the Sample Queries and re-submit
          • On the “Vehicles” tab, note the “Select Vehicle Make and Model” section
          • Then in the “Filter Your Selection” section, click the “Involving a Pedestrian” data element and select “Yes”

          Example intermediate-level conclusions:
          • For 2008-2019, November was a relatively dangerous month for F-350’s and pedestrians in New York City
          • In the state of Alabama, the rate of Fatal Crashes involving a Ford F-Series (F-150 plus F-250 plus F-350) and Involving a Pedestrian increased by a factor of 10 from 2007 to 2016.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Advanced-Intermediate level (not Advanced by any stretch):
            • In the U.S. in 2014, there were 4 instances of Fatal Crashes involving a 2012MY Sierra and Involving a Pedestrian (‘two-year-old’ GMT900).
            • In the U.S. in 2017, there were 12 instances of Fatal Crashes involving a 2015MY Sierra and Involving a Pedestrian (‘two-year-old’ K2XX).

            Some say that the hoodline and sightlines have changed on the newer truck. Some say that outward visibility affects safety. Some say that these things can be objectively measured and evaluated. [Let’s hope they are wrong.]

    • 0 avatar

      The biggest factor–one that has skyrocketed in the last decade–is driver distraction, cell phones, infotainment, etc. When the driver’s eyes leave the road for two seconds the likelihood of crash goes up roughly 20-fold.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I live in Los Angeles, which while a city, is pretty suburban. During the lockdown, my neighbors have taken to walking in the middle of the street at all hours, both day AND night. Many have ear buds, listening to music. Although less traffic in our area due to Covid, the exposure to injury and death has increased.
    In addition, as things are beginning to “open up”, I see no changes back to pedestrians using the sidewalks, waiting for the stop lights, or wearing white or reflectors at night. I am fearful that the pedestrian injury and death numbers will continue to go up. I am also concerned that many drivers have, apparently, forgotten how to drive. I see drivers not even slowing for stop signs; pulling half a lane out into major roadways from side street stops; speeding and running lights that are not just yellow, but have turned flat out red!!!

  • avatar

    In my part of LA it is also common for pedestrians to walk thru minor intersections without slowing dowm,much less stopping or looking for traffic. Usually their head is down,texting away and high numbers are wearing airpods,earbuds.
    Elsewhere I wonder if lack of traffic caused areas of normal stop-n-go driving to have higher pedestrian accident/death rates as drivers were able to drive posted speeds instead of crawling along.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    All good comments. Also, stress levels have been high over the past year. I know that my driving has occasionally been less accurate when I am stressed.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    Before I moved, I went to work a couple of different ways, and one was going down a road that had been formerly, like 60 years ago, crossed by a bunch of train tracks, they put in an underpass, and made the formerly straight road that crossed the main road into basically 2 “S” shapes, one on each side. There are trailer parks all over this area, some very old and one newer one. There are people that live in those trailer parks walking 24/7 in the area, and frequently I would see them walking along, all in dark clothing, with only the phone they are staring at making me able to see them. In one maybe 1/4 mile stretch, it’s pitch black, and I wouldn’t see the idiot walking along until I was almost on top of them. They walk in the street there, the sidewalk doesn’t begin for about 150 feet past a blind turn. Someone gets hit about once a year, and it’s almost always in 2 spots along this trailer park area. I used to see this 20 or so year old kid walking and I actually stopped alongside him and said, “You need to put some reflective stuff on your coat and shoes and maybe a flashing light, or you’re going to get hit one of these nights!”. I was floored when I saw him a couple of days later, with reflective tape on his coat and shoes, and he had some sort of red and white LED scarf thing on. I talked to him and he said he had a couple of scares and he had just assummed it because people weren’t paying attention when driving, but when I said something about him being almost invisible, he took it seriously as he recognized my car as being an almost daily sighting when coming home from work. Sadly, he was the only one who got the hint, and I ended up changing my route just to avoid the pedestrians. Since I moved, an older guy walking at 4am got hit and thankfully was only banged up a little. The story mentioned he had no reflective clothing or lights on.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My neighborhood has a posted speed limit of 25 mph which hardly anyone obeys. I have had one car parked in front of my house almost totaled and an F350 crew cab with a trailer attached moved 20 feet and the trailer destroyed. When I edge along the curb of the street I have to watch for speeding vehicles which are mostly large pickups and large suvs. I do not live on a major road but I have clocked people going over 50 mph in my neighborhood.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I live on a fairly narrow, low-traffic neighborhood arterial. The speed limit is 25 mph, reduced a couple years ago from 30. Probably once a week I see a car driving at 70 mph or more. We all like to push it a bit on empty freeways or mountain roads, but doing that in a city full of people is sociopathic behavior.

  • avatar
    IH_Fever

    People in general just don’t pay attention anymore, regardless of whether they’re driving or walking. You’ve got one looking down on the phone while (maybe) keeping their car in the lane. Then along comes the zombie walking into the street, once again playing on the phone. Heck by big ol self has been run into with a shopping cart in the aisle at the store. Maybe we just need to ban cars and everyone get their own giant hamster ball, because asking someone to be aware of their surroundings is obviously too much…

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

  • avatar
    Dan

    One I’ve seen over and over again is the driver waiting to make a right turn keeps eyes left for a gap in traffic and never even looks at the pedestrian coming from the right.

    The short answer is don’t be a pedestrian at all. My mom taught me not to play in the street when I was like four years old.

    The longer answer is that walking is like riding, you will lose every encounter regardless of the other party being at fault so keep your eyes on your surroundings and not your phone.

  • avatar
    Dan

    One I’ve seen over and over again is the driver waiting to make a right turn keeps eyes left for a gap in traffic and never even looks at the pedestrian coming from the right.

    The short answer is don’t be a pedestrian at all. My mom taught me not to play in the street when I was like four years old.

    The longer answer is that walking is like riding, you will lose every encounter regardless of the other party being at fault so keep your eyes on your surroundings and not your phone.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “The short answer is don’t be a pedestrian at all.”

      So we are going to require every person to put on a two-ton suit of armor just to leave their house and exist in public?

      How about people who are too young, old, or disabled to drive?

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

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

  • avatar
    John Yost

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

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