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Pedestrian Fatality Report Calls for Safer Streets

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

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According to the 2021 Dangerous by Design report recently released by Smart Growth America, the number of pedestrians struck and killed by drivers nationwide over the last decade has increased 45%, with the four more recent years on record (2016-19) being the most-deadly for pedestrian deaths since 1990.

­Over the course of the decade, the report found that 53,435 people were hit and killed by drivers. In 2019, there were 6,237 pedestrian fatalities alone, a number equivalent to 17 fatalities per day.

“This is truly something that has been on the wrong course for a long time with no attempt to intervene,” said SGA Transportation Director Beth Osborne.

Study Findings & Potential Solutions

In a news release by the Governors Highway Safety Association last month, the association noted on several trends that offer insight into the many causes behind the rise in pedestrian fatalities. The trends include:

  • Most pedestrian fatalities take place on local roads, at night and away from intersections, suggesting the need for safer road crossings and increased efforts to make pedestrians and vehicles more visible. (During the past 10 years, the number of nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased by 67%, compared to a 16% increase in daytime pedestrian fatalities);
  • Many unsafe driving behaviors—such as speeding, distracted and drowsy driving—pose risks to pedestrians, and alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian was reported in nearly half of traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities in 2018; and
  • Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car. Although passenger cars are the largest category of vehicles in fatal pedestrian crashes, the number of pedestrian fatalities over the past decade involving SUVs increased at a faster rate (81%) than passenger cars, which increased by 53%.

“In the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian fatalities on our nation’s roadways has increased by more than 50%,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “This alarming trend signifies that we need to consider all the factors involved in this rise, identify the high-risk areas, allocate resources where they’re needed most, and continue to work with local law enforcement partners to address the chronic driver violations that contribute to pedestrian crashes.”

tepic / Getty Images

According to the 2021 Dangerous by Design report recently released by Smart Growth America, the number of pedestrians struck and killed by drivers nationwide over the last decade has increased 45%, with the four more recent years on record (2016-2019) being the most-deadly for pedestrian deaths since 1990.

However, the risks are not evenly distributed either, with older adults, people of color and people walking in low-income communities representing most pedestrian fatalities—even after controlling for differences in population size and walking rates. From 2010-19, Black people were struck and killed by drivers at a 82% higher rate than white, non-Hispanic Americans. For American Indian and Alaska Native people, that disparity climbs to 221%.

According to SGA, the increased pedestrian fatality rates can be attributed to state and local transportation agencies placing a higher value on speed (and avoiding delay) as compared to safety measures. Instead of focusing on a new approach to building and operating streets and roads, many state and localities have been reported to spend the last decade working from the same playbook, highlighting enforcement, running ineffectual education campaigns, or blaming the victims of these crashes, while ignoring or actively distracting people from the role of roadway design in these deaths.

The SGA report was created using the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a national database of all fatal traffic crashes in combination with its Pedestrian Danger Index, which measures how deadly it is for people to walk based on the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking, controlling for the number of people and the share of people who walk to work as a proxy for overall walking in an area. From this collection of data, the SGA ranked the top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians (2010-19):

  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Florida;
  • Bakersfield, California;
  • Memphis, Tennessee;
  • Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida;
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida;
  • Jackson, Mississippi;
  • Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida;
  • Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida; and
  • Jacksonville, Florida.

A full list of the top 20 most dangerous metropolitan areas can be viewed, here. However, it comes as no surprise that the ranking by state is as follows:

  • Florida;
  • Alabama;
  • New Mexico;
  • Mississippi;
  • Delaware;
  • Louisiana;
  • Arizona;
  • South Carolina;
  • Georgia; and
  • Texas.

“Our current approach to safety should be judged on the merits; and by any measure, it has been a complete failure,” said Osborne. “While transportation agencies have done much to avoid doing so, we urgently need to change the way we design and build roads to prioritize safety, not speed, as we currently do.

“In fact, the obsession with keeping traffic moving and avoiding delay at all costs in hopes of saving drivers mere seconds creates the very dangers highlighted in this report. This is why crosswalks are missing or too far apart, why lanes are too wide, why intersections are difficult to cross on foot, and why money can always be found to widen a road, even when adding sidewalks is deemed ‘too expensive.’”

Based on the report findings, the SGA recommends that the federal government take lead on prioritizing safer streets and calls on Congress to adopt the Complete Streets Act of 2021 that requires state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consistently plan for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable users. In addition, the SGA also calls on state DOTs and MPOs to put people first and give their organizations the tools and training they need to create transportation networks that serve all users, as well as the over 1,500 communities that have adopted a Complete Streets policy to turn their vision into practice and implementation.

“Each year, thousands of additional people are dying in pedestrian crashes compared to a decade ago” said GHSA report author Richard Retting. “Following 30 years of declining pedestrian fatalities, there has been a complete reversal of progress. Pedestrians are at an inherent disadvantage in collisions, and we must continue to take a broad approach to pedestrian safety.”

Next week, the SGA plans to host a webinar on March 25 at 2 p.m. Eastern, where experts will go in-depth on the findings and rankings of the report, and plan to here from a collection of special guests as well. Those interested may register, here.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation

Comment from Gary Siler, (3/16/2021, 8:44 AM)

Perhaps the government could save enormous quantities of taxpayer dollars by simply reiterating to people that they are responsible for their own safety and the decisions that they make. Until pedestrians do the following, no amount of wasted money is able to reduce accidents and fatalities: cease using cell phones while walking near roadways (the same would save accidents at homes and in stores, parking lots); stay mentally alert to the walk path and any potential obstacles thereon or nearby; remember that a 2-ton vehicle or larger can inflict unimaginable harm or death on a human body wandering into its path; use sidewalks where provided and maintain a safe distance from the drive path of vehicles (related to first suggestion); stop believing that the human mind is benevolent when it says to try beating a vehicle to a point where you and it will intersect; and finally, use that mustard seed-sized brain to take responsibility for stupid decisions that bring horrible consequences. Children are to taught these things by parents, but it will not happen if the parent doesn't understand these concepts. It's a principle of mind over matter - Use your mind to make smart decisions, or reap the consequences of excessive pieces of matter squashing your body.

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