The Bible Belt Should Really Be Called ‘The Carnage Corset’

Map: Transportation for America
Map: Transportation for America

Sunshine State? More like Carnage Capital.

Eight of the 10 most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. for pedestrians are in Florida, according to a new study by Smart Growth America. Of the remaining 12, eight are in the Deep South.

Florida is a perennial stand-out of the semi-annual report, which combines walking rates, pedestrian fatalities and other factors to measure risk across U.S. states and metros. This year Orlando was ranked the most dangerous, followed by Daytona, Palm Bay, Sarasota and Lakeland — all in Florida — rounding out the ignoble top five.


Bakersfield (number 7) and Jackson, Miss., (number 10) were the only cities located outside the citrus state that managed to sneak into the top 10.

The data helps tell a story about inequality and risk in a nation where pedestrians deaths are both accepted and soaring. Here are a few additional takeaways:


Pedestrians are dying at alarming rates

Over the last 10 years, pedestrian deaths climbed 35 percent in the U.S. A total of 49,340 people were killed between 2008 and 2017, or about 13 people every day for a decade.

Graph: Smart Growth America
Graph: Smart Growth America

Pedestrian safety rates have been eroding compared to drivers and passengers. Pedestrians now make up about 16 percent of total traffic deaths.

Graph: T4A
Graph: Smart Growth America

Since Smart Growth America last issued its Dangerous By Design report in 2016, 79 out of 100 metro areas got more dangerous for walkers.

Florida and the Sun Belt, Low-Income neighborhoods

Pedestrian deaths are concentrated in Sun Belt States. The reason?

“All of the Sun Belt states are challenged by separated land uses, pushing all the traffic onto our arterial road system,” Billy Hathaway, the transportation director for the city of Orlando, said in a press briefing on the report. In other words, communities in Florida and many Sun Belt areas have been designed in sprawling patterns, forcing most people to drive for almost every trip and resulting in a system based on wide, dangerous arterial roads.

Vulnerable groups

National geography is only part of the risk equation, however.

People of color face disproportionate risk, with black people about 73 percent more likely to be killed while walking than whites. Native people are three times as likely.

The federal government doesn’t track the income level of pedestrians who are killed, but crashes are twice as likely in low-income neighborhoods as they are overall.

T4a bar graph

“This is and historically has been a direct result of systemic racism,” said Charles Brown, a researcher who focused on pedestrian issues at Rutgers. “These communities having higher walk commute mode shares, higher transit trips.”

But the landscape is lacking, with incomplete sidewalks, wide roads and other risk factors.

In wealthier areas, government agencies tend to respond to concerns about pedestrian safety by providing better infrastructure, Brown says.

“Historically minority communities receive enforcement.”

In other words, jaywalking tickets as opposed to crosswalks.

The federal government needs to step up. 

The federal government and state transportation agencies are not treating the pedestrian safety crisis with the seriousness it deserves, according to Smart Growth America.

Federal authorities should pass a “National Complete Streets Policy,” which would require state and local governments to ensure all non-rural streets have basic facilities for pedestrians, like sidewalks and crosswalks, the group recommends. Instead, engineers and bureaucrats continue to operate from an auto-era mindset that privileges vehicle speed over safety.

“Our infrastructure just isn’t keeping up with the needs we place on it,” said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “When we are building we’re building more dangerous roads like arterials.”

For example, an important group of federal traffic engineers last week punted on requiring pedestrian signal heads — “Walk” signals — at every intersection, citing cost concerns.

Funding is also an issue, the organization says. “As long as the federal government continues to invest [most] of our transportation funding in building, maintaining, and widening streets for cars instead of creating safer streets for people, we will continue to see more people being killed while walking.”

Less than 2 percent of federal surface transportation funding is reserved for bicycling and pedestrian projects, and that money even is increasingly under threat.

We must shift how we think about traffic deaths

State agencies with authority over streets still see pedestrian deaths as acceptable. Smart Growth America notes that 10 of the 20 states with the highest pedestrian fatality rates actually planned for more pedestrian deaths in 2018 than 2017 rather than work harder to bring the numbers down.

Those states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

The correct number of acceptable traffic deaths is zero, says Smart Growth America.

105 thoughts on The Bible Belt Should Really Be Called ‘The Carnage Corset’

  1. The best states in the US achieve safety records in line with rest of the developed world. Why are southern states so bad at designing roads for safe use?

  2. Get the private vehicles off the public roads. Spread free-at-the-point-of-entry public mass transit everywhere. Make plenty of space on the freed-up pavement for bicycles and buses and food trucks. Cleans the air and water, safens-up the cities and towns.

  3. To be fair states should be ranked using miles traveled as pedestrians or cyclists, not merely aggregate. The southern states and California have more weather that encourages walking and biking, while the hotter days increase night time use, when many collisions occur. That said, south Florida drivers that I observe when I return there are very unlikely to respect crosswalk users.

  4. Having visited California, you’re right that the weather is better – in theory – for walking. But in fact, many more people walk here in snowy Montreal. The culture of the USA and the aphalt-covered built environment do as much damage to cycling and walking rates as five feet of snow and -50 degrees.

  5. Guys – typo in the first sentence. Should be eight of the 20… if, what are the “remaining 12”

  6. As there is no national collection of miles walked, the methodology incoprates share of commutes by walking as a proxy. The top-scoring states and metro areas have disproportionately high pedestrian deaths compared to walk commute rates.

  7. Aren’t many of those deaths suicides? Intentional deaths should be excluded from safety analyses. They are due to mental health problems, not system safety.

  8. Articles like this one fail to mention that over 60% of pedestrian fatalities include some avoidable actions by the pedestrians that contributed to their deaths. This is NOT blaming the victim, it is simply the facts. Some drivers make similarly dangerous errors like not putting on their seat belts – a totally avoidable mistake.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  9. Auto accidents now produce 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled or one fatality per about 86 million miles traveled. NHTSA data from a few years ago found one pedestrian fatality per 80 million miles walked.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  10. I’m curious how those pedestrians died. I’ll hazard a guess that it was most often because someone struck them with a car. That’s how 4000+ people die every year in the US.

  11. And something above 60% of those fatalities involved a contributing action or lack of action by the pedestrian.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. That’s not a citation. You should also learn what victim blaming is, because that’s what you do whenever someone mentions how car users kill people who are walking on (or near) public streets.

  13. There’s the NMA victim-blaming again, trying to distract from the deadly nature of the policies it pushes. The NMA would happily condemn a dead child for playing on neighborhood streets (a contributing action!) if it meant motor vehicle users could get to their destination a few seconds faster.

  14. Hi Jim, why does your home state of Michigan have so many pedestrian deaths despite people staying inside 6 months of the year? It would appear that you and your cohort have been wildly successful there.

    I hope this makes you proud of your life’s work.

  15. Convenient how you believe the NHTSA when they give you ammunition to dismiss the deaths of those killed by cars, bit not when they tell you that your 85th percentile rule is hogwash.

    You fringe folks really have no shame.


  17. If you include venturing out of their house to dare to walk the public streets, then 100% are at fault, although some are even killed in their own house. Many are killed on sidewalks, or in crosswalks. Then there’s driver aggression and contempt for pedestrians exhibited in numerous ways that make it unpleasant and scary to walk. No wonder we’re so unhealthy, and age so poorly. However, I have seen some pedestrians take unnecessary risks,and have done so myself. We have a million years of evolutionary adaptation to walking, a hundred years with motor vehicles, bound to be collisions, because the design of vehicles and roads has catered to speed and traffic flow, not sharing public space safely and equitably.

  18. This doesn’t account for disabling injuries, which may have increased as death rates fell due to vehicle safety improvements (for occupants), and better trauma care. Similar to military casualties.

  19. If this article mentioned that method, I missed it. I’m not sure how many walkers consider themselves to be commuting, mostly exercise or local shopping.

  20. Also known as the Diabetes Belt, because people are afraid to walk. Not just cars but loose dogs, ornery neighbors, long hauls to the closest store.

  21. The source document explains the methodology. Walk commutes are measured through the annual American Community Survey. Commutes are obviously a small part of daily trips, but consistent measurement across the country only covers commutes.

  22. YES, some accidents with pedestrians are mostly the fault of the drivers. But some are mostly the fault of the pedestrians. Failure to work on both issues means less safety overall.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  23. We would be better off with UN-ECE rules for the frontal design of cars, but those in charge of FMVSS safety rules haven’t gone that way so far.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  24. Yes, humans who aren’t operating heavy machinery (cars) must always be on the defensive every day of their lives. Like prey.

    And as for children, why, they just have to stay indoors and play videogames instead of socializing outside where a car will kill them for “not being permanenetly vigilant” like countries under attack are always supposed to be.

  25. It’s in the negatives here in Madison, WI and yet people are biking and walking all over the place. These are clearly failed engineering practices at work.

    It’s not the weather. It’s not distracted walking. Its poor design.

  26. Please, just go away. Take up cycling and walking and try both for an extended time before you open your fucking ignorant mouth again on this forum.

  27. If it is “ignorant” to know some accidents with pedestrians and cyclists are mostly the fault of the pedestrians and cyclists, I recommend you acquire some “ignorance” on that issue.

    Safety requires all users’ care and responsibility.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. Your first two sentences nail it–drivers, to my observation, are an uncontrolled apex predator with no natural enemies.

  29. The data is garbage as anyone who has read local police reports on accidents well knows. The police ask the driver why he ran someone over, and the driver says “She darted out into traffic” and the police report it that way. If they even ask the driver.

  30. I respectfully disagree. Data on more common times of pedestrian accidents and more common types of people involved do not rely on the police reports.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  31. There’s a big difference amongst southern states. We aren’t all the same. I live in North Carolina and it is much different in every sense than Mississippi or Lousiana. You wouldn’t say all the Northern States and mean Washington to Maine. Just plain ignorance on people that know nothing about what area they are talking about.

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