U.S. Traffic Fatalities Rising Fast — Especially Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

Traffic fatalities in America hit a seven-year high in 2015, with pedestrians and cyclists accounting for a disproportionate share of the alarming increase, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, 35,200 people were killed in traffic — a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 and the worst death toll since 2008. The number of people killed while walking or biking is rising even faster.

Traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent last year and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase. Graph: NHTSA
Last year pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased more than overall traffic deaths. Graph: NHTSA

Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent last year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than other types of victims, according to NHTSA. The agency did not break down these categories by number.

Driving increased in 2015 too, but by 3.5 percent — not enough to explain the rising death toll.

People walking or biking have accounted for a growing share of total traffic deaths since 2007, and there is little agreement about the underlying causes. In addition to the usual rush to blame victims by invoking “distracted walking,” theories include increases in biking and walking overall, driver distraction, and low gas prices promoting more “marginal” drivers like teenagers, who are more crash prone. (The NHTSA report says crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent in 2015.)

One thing is clear, however: The United States is falling further behind other nations that have sustained impressive reductions in traffic fatalities. While countries like the UK, Japan, and Germany achieve rapid improvements in street safety, America has failed to keep people safe on the streets.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, for his part, rejected the idea that traffic deaths are to be expected or tolerated. “Every American should be able to drive, ride or walk to their destination safely, every time,” he said.

But the NHTSA’s statement on the findings illustrates the agency’s institutional limitations when it comes to addressing street safety. In response to the increase in traffic deaths, the NHTSA says it will promote some car technology solutions like automatic braking. But the agency doesn’t mention systemic threats to people walking and biking, like streets designed for excessive motorist speeds.

  • ummm…

    evidence of a civilization in decline. expect barbarian invasion any day people.

  • Harald

    “the NHTSA says it will promote some car technology solutions like automatic breaking.”

    Freudian slip? I’d love it for cars to have automatic breaking systems that disable them as soon as their drivers do something dangerous 🙂

  • Bobo Chimpan

    So, the idea of pedestrians being more distracted by their phones is floated, but not the idea that drivers with mobile computers might be dangerously distracted? Drivers using their phones are more dangerous than drunk drivers. We have streets increasingly filled with drivers who are more dangerous than intoxicated ones. And it’s a mystery why deaths are going up?

  • Vooch

    speed bumps
    narrowed lanes
    automatic enforcement cameras
    cobblestones
    wider sidewalks
    pedestrian radius intersections
    pedestrian bump outs at intersections
    daylighting at intersections
    market clearing prices for parking
    protected bike lanes
    eliminate all subsidies for mass motoring
    drivers who kill have driving privileges revoked forever

    traffic violence would plummet

  • Split phases signals at every intercessions – no more conflicts between cars and pedestrians
    gas tax of $ 5 per gallon
    charge per miles travelled – increased for every injuries or deaths
    a massive purchase tax for pick up trucks and SUVS
    a massive transfer and recurring tax for all suburban and sprawl developments
    more pedestrian crossings
    let the roads crumble

  • Critical critic

    Require a transponder be installed in every car that reads speed limit signs and prevents cars from exceeding the speed limit. It could easily be a federal law, but it won’t be.

  • Kev28

    How about bikes that obey traffic laws? You know, actually ride in the right direction, use bike lanes when available and stop at stoplights. Bikers act like they’re the only ones on the street. I had a friend who was walking get hit by a bike who was going very fast the wrong way on a one way street and blamed her for not looking in that direction. Why are bikers never to blame?

  • How about drivers that obey traffic laws? You know, actually drive the speed limit, yield to pedestrians, use their turn signals, stop before the crosswalk, and stop at stoplights instead of running the red. Car drivers act like they’re the only ones on the street. I had a friend who was walking and got hit by a car driver who made a right turn on red without ever looking to the right and then blamed her for not looking before crossing WITH a walk light. Why are car operators let off with minor penalties — or none! – when they endanger people with their 2-ton machines?

  • Joe R.

    How about traffic laws that actually make sense for bikes? That might include letting cyclists treat red lights and stops signs as yields, meaning they can pass them when the intersection is clear. It might also include making streets which are one way for motor vehicles two way for bikes. Most of the traffic regulations exist to prevent multi-ton machines with poor visibility from colliding with each other. There’s no reason for cyclists (or pedestrians for that matter) to have to follow the letter of these laws.

  • Thanks, state DOTs! I hope those levels of service are worth the deaths you’ve enabled.

  • jd_x

    Way too much technology involved in your solution when it could be done much more holistically — and by getting to the root cause — by changing road design to discourage dangerous motorist behavior and to protect vulnerable road users, creating a legal/judicial system that appropriately punishes motorists who display dangerous behavior (this importantly includes loss of license for years and sometimes permanently when serious injury or death is the result and the motorist is at fault), and training/educating police forces to not be so biased against anybody who isn’t in a car and who thus spend their limited resources non-optimally (e.g. ticketing bicyclists and pedestrians for harmless yet technically against the letter of the law violations). All this can literally be done in a few years with no new technology and in fact is already being done on places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

  • farazs

    OTOH, your friend is alive to complain about it!

  • Ted King

    The barbarians are already on the streets driving the latest models of armored chariots.

  • Livable streets advocates in Oregon will be doing something about the escalating carnage. Oregon has seen a 42% increase in traffic fatalities in just the past two years (313 in 2013, and 445 in 2015). The numbers are continuing to rise in 2016.

    Sparked by the groups Livable Streets Action and BikeLoudPDX, we’ll be biking the 55 +/- miles from Portland to Salem (the state capitol) on Saturday, July 16th to rally for change. Other groups in Oregon have already reached out to join the cause.

    If you live in Oregon, or know anyone who does, we would love to have you join this movement. Please spread the word, and I encourage people throughout the country to use grassroots power to advocate for change. We need more funding for active transportation, and we need stronger laws (that get enforced) against negligent motorists.

    For more details on the Salem Ride + Rally, see this BikePortland article: http://bikeportland.org/2016/07/01/bikeloud-livable-streets-action-will-ride-to-salem-july-16-for-transportation-reform-186825

  • Tom Sherman

    I HAVE VIOLATED THE TRAFFIC LAWS FOR 70 YEARS ON MY BIKE HAD ONLY ONE ACCIDENT NOT MY FAULT.. FOLLOWING THE TRAFFIC LAWS IS A GOOD WAY TO GET KILLED OR INJURED FROM
    BIKER FATIGUE AND EXCESS TIME ON THE ROAD.

  • Tom Sherman

    RIGHT ON

  • farazs

    Well, there are of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of drivers with the same claim to fame — proving what exactly? No one gets killed on injured simply from biker fatigue or excess time on the road! People do get killed or injured because others do not follow traffic laws or because of unsafe infrastructure. While your scoff-law maxim might not be responsible for those incidents, it is not a solution either. You are basically rubbing our noses in to your streak of good luck, and frankly, no one is impressed!

  • Tom Sherman

    MR FARAZS; BELOW IS AN EMAIL I SENT TO WISCONSIN DOT THE TWO PARAGRAPHS BEGINNING “AS TO SAFETY . . .” BEING THE PERTINENT ONES. THE ROAD SYSTEM HAS BEEN DESIGNED FOR CARS NOT BIKES, SO WHY SHOULD CAR RULES APPLY TO BIKES.? MY LOW ACCIDENT RECORD IS NOT BASED ON LUCK. ANYONE CAN DO WHAT I DO SAFELY. ///DID IT EVER OCCUR TO YOU THAT CAR VIOLATIONS OCCUR ALL THE TIME THAT ARE NEVER ENFORCED? IF A BIKER HAS AN ACCIDENT HE RARELY HURTS SOMEONE ELSE UNLIKE A CAR. AGAIN FOR THAT REASON CARS SHOULD FOLLOW THE RULES BIKES NOT (EXCEPT IF A BIKERS ACTIONS ARE BLATANTLY RECKLESS). ///IF A BIKER HAD TO FOLLOW THE ROAD RULES A LOT FEWER PEOPLE WOULD BIKE. THINK ABOUT IT IF EVERYONE BIKED THERE WOULD BE HARDLY ANY ROAD DEATHS AND LESS AIR POLLUTION OR OTHER CAR SIDE EFFECTS. ////IN SUMMATION: IF YOU CONSIDER G SAFETY IN A BROAD WAY THE SAFEST THING TO DO IS TO GET RID OF CARS AND THEIR USE AS WE KNOW IT. ADVANTAGING BIKES IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE HELPS SIGNIFICANTLY EFFECT THIS .

    dot you are the people who messed things up in the first place favoring cars and you’re still trying to push roads we don’t need down our throats and losing in court see jeff gonyo on i think its 164. be that as it may i bike never owned a car so here are some suggestions:

    bike paths might be built on a slope from side or middle for easier cleaning and plowing as banking does not affect bikes. they should have a heat strip at least for a narrow section per icing. using ground blackened aluminum particles would be the cheapest way to do this where a secondary road is bumpy or even where its not one might pave an 8″ strip . where roads intersect bike lanes bikes should be warned if cars are within say 200 feet by a radar activated amber light and also the cars on the road should have slower speed within the 299 feet and have a bike path warning sign. the oakleaf at mill could be such a place. you have such a warning sign on the oakleaf at hampton road whitefishbay.

    as to safety: i always use the secondary roads and i never stop at stop signs 4 way or 2 . here is how i do it safely. lets do the 4-way stop– when i’m within 45′ of the intersection i fade to the center line so if there is a car they can see me and i them. if the cars is on the right i go way left and if on the left to the right this does two things: 1) it lets the driver know i see him and 2) that he has start up space. i’ve never had a car start on me. cars usually let me go first anyhow but this eliminates the indecisiveness.. if a car does start i can go behind it. i never do this without color. 95% of the time there is never a car there anyhow..//// you can facilitate this by marking 4 ways as such. the above amber-light radar system could be used here also. incidentally. your timing lights are a great aid in whether or how i cross. arterials thtis way

    as to safety again: if i’m going to make a left turn and see an opening a few blocks ahead i’ll cross to the left and ride against traffic. when i hand signal a left turn almost all approaching cars move towards the center line i only do this if i have colored gloves. ////if i’m on a country road with no traffic i ride on the left side therefore i do not worry about having cars behind me for the same reason i use the left lane on a boulevard if i forget my light i also do this. if a car comes at me i either left signal again or stop and get off the road, or go to the right lane

  • Tom Sherman

    TWO THINGS I DID NOT MENTION AND ONE OF WHICH IS A CLARIFICATION. 1 BIKERS HAVE A SUPERIOR LINE OF SIGHT ESPECIALLY AT INTERSECTIONS. 2 TO CLARIFY I DON’T WANT TO JUST ADVANTAGE BIKES BECAUSE ITS SAFER OR RIGHT BUT I WANT TO CREATE A SPEED AND PARKING SPACE DIFFERENTIAL WITH CARS AS A DELIBERATE POLICY BY LOWERING SPEED LIMITS, ELIMINATING PARKING ON STREETS, ADDING STOP SIGNS, HAVING ROAD BUMPS WITH SLOTS FOR BIKES ETC. CARS NEED TO BE ELIMINATED FROM SOCIETY BEFORE THEY CAUSE ITS TOTAL DESTRUCTION.

  • Mighk Wilson

    I’ve been doing detailed analysis of cyclist crashes for many years in the Orlando area. Most of the increase in cyclist crashes is due to motorists at fault, especially when the cyclist is on a sidewalk/crosswalk or bike lane.

  • Tom Sherman

    fatigue accidents happen all the time with truckers. thats why its illegal for them to drive over a certain # of hours.

  • farazs

    That is relevant to bicyclists how? How is that even remotely comparable? What bike commute changes from ~30 minutes to 8-10 hours due to following traffic laws?

  • farazs

    I believe ^bigotry^ will effect total destruction of society way sooner than cars.

  • Tom Sherman

    NO ONE? THINK ABOUT WEAKER RIDERS ESPECIALLY WOMEN. MAYBE ITS NOT A MAJOR FACTOR. WHAT HAVE YOU TO SAY AS TO THE SAFETY OF MY SYSTEM NOW THAT YOU’VE GOT THE DETAILS.

  • farazs

    ^That is blatantly sexist. FWIW, most women I encounter on my commute leave me in the dust.

    As to your ‘system’, I must say it is a colossal testament to stupidity. Your behaviour is completely unpredictable and shows utter disregard bordering on contempt for other road users, especially vulnerable users like pedestrians and other cyclists.

  • Mark Thomas

    I am giving out flashlights to pedestrians and bicyclists to honor my sister Shelley Ann Thomas who was killed in pedestrian accident in Gainsville Fl July 25, 1012.

  • Mark Thomas
  • So, the Natl. Safety Council somehow missed the memo about how bicyclists represent the fastest growing type of road user getting killed in larger and larger numbers; what a travesty: http://www.nsc.org/Connect/NSCNewsReleases/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=1f2e4535-5dc3-45d6-b190-9b49c7229931&ID=180&Web=36d1832e-7bc3-4029-98a1-317c5cd5c625

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    Of that 35,000 deaths, how much is caused by cyclists?
    Whenever a cyclists actually ends up killing a person, it makes front page news, the last known incident in NYC was a couple of years ago, a city where there a lot of bike activity. lets say it’s to say, while being super conservative, that cyclists have killed 350 people this past year, thats nearly 1 person per day, although that is quite ridiculous, as there would be such an uproar throughout the US.

    So you want the police to focus on the group that contributes to less than 1% of that death toll?

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