Hit-and-Run Deaths Are Skyrocketing, and Pedestrians and Cyclists Bear the Brunt

Hit-and-run deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists are soaring. Graph: AAA Foundation
Hit-and-run deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists are soaring. Graph: AAA Foundation

Traffic safety in the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction. Overall traffic fatalities are on the rise, pedestrian deaths are up about 25 percent over the last four years, and increasingly, drivers are striking people and leaving them for dead, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation.

The 2,049 hit-and-run deaths nationwide in 2016 were the most since record-keeping began. And nearly two-thirds of the victims were walking or biking.

Proving that there’s no traffic violence trend the national press won’t blame on pedestrians and cyclists, the Wall Street Journal covered the report as a warning to bike in bright colors and avoid texting while walking. But if the AAA report is indicative of anything, it’s an increasing level of lawlessness on the part of drivers.

Since 2009, hit-and-run fatalities are up 60 percent, the report finds, rising faster than overall traffic deaths. Hit-and-runs now account for a greater share of all traffic fatalities than at any time in the past 12 years. Only about half of hit-and-run drivers who kill are later identified.

The authors aren’t sure why fatal hit-and-runs are rising, but as with the general upward trend in traffic deaths, they suspect distracted driving is a factor.

Previous research has shown that hit-and-run drivers tend to have histories of drunk driving and license suspensions, and flee the scene to avoid steeper penalties.

In some states, fear of deportation may play a role. A recent study found that hit-and-runs declined in California after the state allowed undocumented immigrants to hold driver’s licenses.

Overall, the AAA report is more evidence that America’s traffic safety paradigm is failing. Decades of institutional safety practices that treat superficial symptoms while overlooking the central role of car-centric street design and planning have left the U.S. with a traffic fatality rate far higher than peer nations. Life is cheap on American streets.

  • Cynara2

    They are only rising for pedestrians, not cyclists.

  • TakeFive

    But if the AAA report is indicative of anything, it’s an increasing level of lawlessness on the part of drivers.

    Also worthy of consideration although rarely illegal: https://seriousaccidents.com/legal-advice/top-causes-of-car-accidents/

    1. Distracted Driving
    The number one cause of car accidents is not a criminal that drove drunk, sped or ran a red light. Distracted drivers are the top cause of car accidents in the U.S. today. A distracted driver is a motorist that diverts his or her attention from the road, usually to talk on a cell phone, send a text message or eat food.

  • JZ71

    I wonder how much distracted walking factors into the statistics, as well?

  • Brad Aaron

    About zero percent.

  • qatzelok

    When you put on a pair of shoes, you’re embarking on a very dangerous adventure (walking) that demands constant vigilance?

  • TakeFive

    Just speaking for myself, I’d rather be alive than right but each to his own.

  • kevd

    how does being hit while distracted cause a diver to flee the scene?

  • kevd

    we’re turning into a nation of sociopaths, basically.

  • JZ71

    It doesn’t, but it does contribute to getting hit, in the first place.

  • David Henri

    No drivers license, no insurance, no documentation…..I’m outta here.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Drug impairment. I’m willing to bet that a lot of the numbers we are seeing, whether it is hit-and-run, increases in fatalities, etc are at least partially related to the opioid epidemic. Driver is high as hell, they hit someone, and nope, we’re outta here.

  • bettybarcode
  • Anne A

    Hit and funs with injuries (non fatal) area increasing for cyclists.

  • Dan Powers

    I can’t believe this is true in CA. Our political leaders assured us, while selling us AB 60, that providing driver licenses to undocumented immigrants would ensure everyone knows how to drive properly, will purchase insurance, and not be afraid to stay at the scene of an accident in which they were involved.

  • Hit and runs are rising because it’s popular in America now to blame others for everything. There’s no way a motorist who runs a pedestrian down is gonna offer themselves up and why should they when the message from certain quarters is so loud and clear. It’s not my fault. It can’t be. I’m a victim..always. Remember that incident on the Natchez Trace where the motorist accused the cyclist of jumping in front of him and throwing his bike at the SUV? Yeah, that’s what we’ve become.

  • VA Bicycling Fed.

    A big contributor is that as we’ve cracked down on DUI with increased penalties and life consequences, it’s easier and cheaper to face a hit-and-run charge. Fines may be similar, but there’s no mandatory alcohol school, AA meetings, ignition interlock device, or having it on your driving record for 10 years. “No way I’m getting a DUI,” people think at the scene, and they flee, even if they know they’ll soon be arrested.

  • SurlyCyclist

    You have a source to support that assertion?

  • Cynara2

    Yeah, this study the article is about. Go look at it. It is being misrepresented here. Cyclist hit and runs are going down. Only walker hit and runs are skyrocketing. Certainly, you are able to use Google.

  • Cynara2

    Not according to the study mentioned in this article. They are going down for cyclists and skyrocketing for walkers.

  • SurlyCyclist

    I had read it, it lumps cyclists and pedestrians together. Which I will agree is not correct. But nowhere did I see where it showed that cycling hit and run fatalities were not on the rise.

    Certainly you’re able to cite your sources. You made a statement, it is up to you to provide the evidence to support it, not on others to try to find your source. It takes 2 extra seconds to copy and paste a source.

  • Jeff Gonzales

    Um, from the article: “A recent study found that hit-and-runs declined in California after the state allowed undocumented immigrants to hold driver’s licenses.”

    So yeah, signs suggest it’s doing what they said it would do.

  • Frank Kotter

    Yes, and blindness. More people are blind so of course they will get hit!

  • Dan Shah

    Well, when you consider that the stats in Europe show a -60% or more rate of fatalities on the road during the same period as the increase here, and that they have taken many measures to slow traffic, add safe bike and ped infrastructure, then I think you have your answer.

  • Anne A

    We’ve seen an increase here in Chicago.

  • I don’t know what study you looked at. See http://aaafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/18-0058_Hit-and-Run-Brief_FINALv2.pdf, the research brief linked from the study page. Bicyclist fatalities in hit and runs have gone up every year from lows in 2009-2010; see Table A1.

    (Those were years in which a number of fatality stats dipped a bit, including for the other modes listed in this report. See https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0001457516303414 as one source if you’re interested in the possible effects of the recession.)

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