For walkers across this country, the news is sobering: Drivers struck and killed nearly 7,500 people on foot in 2021 – the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in a single year in four decades and an average of 20 fatalities per day. Additionally, the percentage of speed-related pedestrian crashes involving children 15 and under has more than doubled in the previous three years.
These are the main conclusions of the new estimates announced earlier this month in “Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2021 Preliminary Data,” a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit organization representing state traffic safety offices.
“This is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “The pandemic has caused so much death and damage that it is frustrating to see even more lives needlessly killed due to dangerous driving.”
The growing death toll underscores the ‘urgent need’ for a layered approach to protect walkers from the proliferation of speeding, impaired and distracted driving and other dangerous driving behaviors, the group says of security.
“We must tackle the root causes of the pedestrian safety crisis – speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors, inadequate infrastructure and roads designed for vehicle speed rather than safety – to reverse this trend and ensure that people can walk safely,” Adkins added.
The new projection found that the 7,485 pedestrian fatalities in 2021 represented an increase of almost 12% from the previous year, leading to the loss of 774 additional lives. Last year was also a bad year: Pedestrian fatalities rose during the pandemic, despite a decline in driving, according to the safety group.
The report’s analysis was based on data provided by state traffic safety offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The report provides examples of successful state programs and details how the five elements of a safe system approach — safe people, safe roads, safe vehicles, safe speeds, and post-crash care — can address” pedestrian safety crisis”. Also known as Vision Zero, the Safe System approach to road safety and design accounts for human error. First introduced in Sweden in the 1990s, the goal is to eliminate all road deaths and serious injuries by creating multiple layers of protection. So if one fails, the others will create a safety net to lessen the impact of an accident.
Some recent trends from the report:
- Speed has a significant impact on pedestrian safety. The average risk of death for pedestrians increases exponentially the faster a vehicle is traveling, rising from 10% at 23 mph to 90% at 58 mph. In 2020, the percentage of pedestrians killed for speeding increased to 8.6% from 7.2% the previous year.
- While pedestrian fatalities have increased by 54% over the past decade, all other road fatalities have increased by 13%. Pedestrians accounted for 17% of all road fatalities in 2020, up from 13% in 2010.
- Pedestrian fatalities fell 8% in the 10 largest US cities in 2020 after years of increases, likely due to fewer people walking and driving in response to public health restrictions.
- Over the past decade, the number of pedestrian fatalities in collisions involving sport utility vehicles (SUVs) has increased at a faster rate than fatalities in collisions involving passenger cars. Due to their higher body weight and wider profile, SUVs can cause more damage.
- Most pedestrian fatalities continue to occur at night, and have accounted for an even larger share in recent years.
- The presence of sidewalks can help protect passers-by by separating them from automobile traffic, but additional infrastructure design considerations, such as raised crosswalks and traffic calming that slow vehicle speeds, can provide even more protection. The percentage of pedestrian fatalities for which no curb was noted on the accident report rose to 67% in 2020, from an average of 62% in the previous four years.
To read the full report, including pedestrian fatality estimates by state, click here.