• March 23rd, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projects that the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate rose 20% in the first six months of 2020 as speeding, distracted and impaired driving, and other dangerous driving behaviors increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety offers the first comprehensive look at state and national trends in 2020 pedestrian traffic deaths, based on preliminary data provided by State Highway Safety Offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.). The analysis found that from January through June 2020, 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes – six more than the same period in 2019. Factoring in a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationwide, the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians jumped to 2.2 deaths per billion VMT, a significant and unsettling increase from 1.8 deaths the year before.

If this troubling pattern continues for the second half of the year as many traffic safety experts fear, 2020 is projected to have the largest ever annual increase in the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per mile driven. GHSA will hold a news briefing for media to discuss the report’s findings on March 23 at 2 p.m. ET.

“Walking should not be a life and death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “The traffic safety community should focus on a comprehensive approach that uses every tool available to save lives, including engineering, community outreach, emergency response and equitable enforcement that prioritizes the prevention of driving behaviors – like speeding, distraction and impairment – that pose the greatest threats to non-motorized road users.”

The GHSA report also examines 2019 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), finding that pedestrians accounted for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019, compared to 13% in 2010. While pedestrian deaths have risen by 46% over the past decade, the number of all other traffic deaths has increased by only 5%. Although advancements in motor vehicle safety and technology have increased survivability for vehicle occupants involved in crashes, pedestrians are not so protected and remain susceptible to serious or fatal injuries when struck by a motor vehicle.

The 2019 FARS data analysis highlights numerous factors related to pedestrian fatalities. Key findings include:

  • Drivers struck and killed a larger proportion of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) traveling on foot than expected based on their respective share of the population, while people on foot classified as white/non-Hispanic accounted for a considerably smaller proportion based on population. This reinforces the need for racial equity to be a centerpiece of comprehensive pedestrian safety action plans.
  • Most pedestrians are killed on local roads, in the dark and away from intersections, suggesting the need for safer road crossings and increased efforts to make pedestrians more visible through improved lighting and other countermeasures. During the past 10 years, the number of drivers striking and killing a pedestrian after dark increased by 54%, compared to a 16% rise in pedestrian fatalities in daylight.
  • Alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian was reported in nearly half of traffic crashes that resulted in a pedestrian fatality.
  • Although passenger cars are the largest category of vehicles in fatal pedestrian crashes, the number of pedestrian deaths over the past decade in crashes involving sport utility vehicles (SUVs) increased at a faster rate – 69% – than deaths in crashes involving passenger cars, which increased by 46%. As light truck and SUV sales continue to climb, the likelihood increases of pedestrians being struck by a larger and more dangerous vehicle.

Despite the alarming projected increase in the pedestrian death rate per mile driven in the first half of 2020, the report identifies progress in some state-reported data. For example, 20 states and D.C. saw declines in the number of pedestrians killed by drivers for the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, with nine states reporting double-digit decreases and two states reporting three consecutive years of decreases. The report also highlights proven strategies employed at the state and local level, including engineering and road design, high visibility and automated enforcement, pedestrian safety assessments and road safety audits, and education directed to children and crash bystanders.

The full report, including infographics and state-by-state data, is available on the GHSA website. Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting conducted the data analysis.

News release courtesy of GHSA.