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. If it’s so bad walking around here in the south then would the 100’s of thousands of you stop moving here! That is one of the reasons for this increase in pedestrian danger. We have grown more than any other place. People are moving here in droves and people are leaving the colder states in droves.

  2. Yes, but as JW Carwash would say, most of these pedestrians are sinners anyway. Death by car is just God’s way of sorting us all out.

  3. Are there any national or state public health surveys that ask people how much they walk in public every week? There’s probably more miles cycled indoors than outdoors now, but from my observations walking is more frequently used to shop locally, recreation, walk the dog, etc.. than walk to work.

  4. I don’t like to be so judgemental, (said ironically) but most Americans are too lazy to walk and it shows.

  5. The (inconsistently-issued) National Household Travel Survey accounts for all trips, not just commutes. Various states, regions, and cities also do their own studies using travel diaries and surveys, but those are generally not standardized enough to allow apples-to-apples comparisons.

  6. have you seen the crackheads? people do jump in front of trucks to kill themselves, dOEs tHaT mEaN pEoPle whO wAlK aRe mEnTalLy iLl???

  7. Detroit has been built up with infrastructure that you’d find in the south, motor city does not like pedestrians

  8. Another swipe at Christianity and using info on traffic issues that is designed to be anti-driver in nature. As usual, cars are said to always be the problem, but the data does not back that up. How many people walking and biking cause the crashes they are in? Quite a few. I have noticed many people wearing black at night, which is not wise.

  9. Do you have a source for that claim. I’ve recently compiled ceash data on about 3 miles of roadway in our city over 6 years and didn’t find any example of illegal activity on the part of the pedestrians hit. All were a result of drivers. The biggest culprits being speeding, following too close, and poor roadway design (IE 4 lane road vs 3 on twltl).

    Expanding my memory to other such research I can only come up with one example of distracted walking, and a few mid block crashes (which I blame in part due to excessive cycle lengths ar the signals).

    So I’ll trust my access and effort looking into the situation here, in a city that ranks quite well, over baseless accusations.

  10. The two Michigan cities on the list are Detroit and Grand Rapids. Detroit definitely brings the state down in this case as GR is a little better than average.

    Detroit was the first city to go full auto orientated design and use the suburban model to the extent we see today.

    As much as I hate the Detroit bashing that goes on in my original home state, this is a case where its warranted. But don’t blame the current residents for the sins of their fathers, instead fix them.

  11. This article fails to ask an obvious question: WHY are pedestrian death rates rising so much? NHTSA says SUVs are responsible for the 46% rise in pedestrian death rate from 2009 to 2018. NHTSA concluded pedestrians are 2 to 3 times “more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup than when struck by a passenger car”.
    Source: Detroit Free Press article “Death on foot: America’s love of SUVs is killing pedestrians”.

  12. Warning: National Motorists Association is a small group rabidly opposed to regulation of cars. They oppose red light cameras and speeding cameras, enforcement of speeding laws, and as seen here, appropriate diagnosis of blame in pedestrian deaths. NMA would say: get out of my way! get off the road! let me drive as fast as I want!

  13. For those interested in the truth, here are our major principles.

    Traffic safety through sound engineering and real driver training

    Traffic laws fairly written and reasonably enforced
    Command-and-control tactics like speed traps and red-light cameras do not constitute reasonable enforcement. Revenue motives corrupt the process, a problem exacerbated by the hiring of private, for-profit contractors as proxies for local law enforcement.

    Freedom from arbitrary traffic stops and unwarranted searches/seizures

    Freedom from invasive surveillance

    Full due process for motorists

    Reasonable highway user fees for maintaining and improving highways, not for financing non-highway projects

    Motorists’ rights that keep pace with technological advance

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  14. I am from and live in Charlotte, NC. I have lived in Boston without a car and New Jersey, Maryland, as well as Virginia. While Boston is a great walkable city it is very expensive to live there even without a car. To compare Boston had 22 pedestrian deaths last year. Charlotte had 27. That’s one out of every 31,000 people in Boston and one out of every 31,800 in Charlotte. So, the pedestrian death rate is pretty much the same in these two cities. It’s not just a north or south thing.

  15. Absolutely. They’re an anti-accountability group representing only the extremist fringe. They got their start opposing speed limits, quickly segued into opposing drunk driving laws, and they seem to have only gotten slimier since.

    When he’s not victim-blaming or FUD-ing road safety improvements, JCW here likes fighting against enforcement cameras to catch people who blow past stopped school buses. Some people have odd hobbies.

  16. Not baseless at all, people walking feel the need to ignore laws and common sense. Here is one example below that proves the point. Speed causes around 1.6% of crashes per NHTSA data, so I do not believe that one. How can you say people walking are not at fault? See it everyday, they walk out right in front of cars, dark clothes, no lighting, intoxicated, fatigued, jaywalk, phones, etc.

  17. Fascinating! Where does the data come from? What percentage of total incidents does it cover? What is the official reason for ignoring police reports?

  18. It is from nationwide databases by NHTSA and FARS. The police report is irrelevant for most details beyond time of day and types of victims involved. Who was at fault is irrelevant to that data.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  19. From the NHTSA brochure on FARS data:

    “The analysts obtain the documents needed to complete the FARS cases, which generally include some or all of the following:

    Police accident reports
    State vehicle registration files
    State driver licensing files
    State highway department data
    Vital records department data
    Death certificates
    Coroner/medical examiner reports
    Emergency medical service reports…..”

    Which of those do you think would most likely be used to determine factors contributing to a fatal crash? Take your time.

  20. This might help you with the answer to the question below. From the FARS Analytical User’s Manual, under “Non-Motorist Contributing Circumstances”:

    “This data element describes the action(s) and/or circumstances of this non-motorist that law enforcement indicated may have contributed to the crash….”

    I’d add some bolding, but I have faith you’ll see the relevant phrase on your own. Please don’t disappoint me.

  21. The NMA also

    opposes lowering the legal BAC limit despite the safety benefits (they’ve been fighting drunk-driving laws since the beginning)

    Believes cameras on school buses to catch people illegally passing when children are disembarking are somehow unjust

    Uses “fear, uncertainty, doubt” propaganda tactics whenever re-engineering streets for safety comes up (despite claiming to support “sound engineering”)

    Thinks whatever speed drivers choose to drive at is the safest speed, regardless of context

    Habitually blames any road user killed while not encased in a motor vehicle for their own death

    And regularly cherry-picks and misrepresents data. When they bother with data.

    Oh yeah, and they’re a tiny, for-profit fringe lobbyist organization.

  22. At least you’ve stopped saying 60% of pedestrians were deemed at fault. It took being publicly humiliated for you to make that revision, but it’s progress to see you adapt your script even a little bit when you run up against facts.

  23. “Irrelevant to that data”? What does that even mean? The data doesn’t matter, what matters are the incidents the data is based on.

    Either the information is included in the data, or not. If it is not included in the data, how can you draw any conclusion about what changes can be made? How can you conclude from your supposedly neutral data that “But some are mostly the fault of the pedestrians”?

    At this stage you’re just trolling.

  24. I make the assumption that the FARS//NHTSA data for the time of day of the accidents, the age & gender of the pedestrians, and the accident locations involved is very unlikely to be in error.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  25. You used to claim that 60% were responsible for their own deaths, full stop. Someone checked your sources and found, true to form, you were misrepresenting the data. Now you’ve adjusted your claim.

    It’s kind of impressive how shameless you are. Most people would be embarrassed to be called out for lies and inaccuracies so often, but you just keep plugging away.

  26. You’re also completely ignoring that those data don’t determine fault; that non-motorist actions are, as explicitly stated by the FARS manual, only evaluated for fault when analysts are led to do so by law enforcement; and the the primary source for analysts’ evaluation is police reports. The FARS data is clearly subject to officer biases and, contrary to your claim, is absolutely reliant on police reports.

  27. I rarely respond to Sincerely because the accusations are often so far fetched. If Sincerely thinks the time of day, location, and the age & gender of the pedestrians are wrongly recorded or deliberately faked due to officer biases on police reports – I just respectfully say that is utter nonsense.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. No, I’m saying that, when factors affecting a crash are determined, the role played by participants extends beyond the limited subset you’re describing and information on those roles, as recorded in police reports, is dependent on sources which are not objective (survivor bias being the most obvious source of error). Honestly I’m not sure why you’re even fixated on things like “time of day.” This isn’t that complicated of an idea.

  29. Also, it’s hardly far-fetched to point out that you’re a mouthpiece for a for-profit fringe organization. You aren’t exactly subtle in your propagandizing.

  30. Cars are 100% the problem. No pedestrians “die of walking” and a tiny number of cyclists “die of biking.” Both of these types of transportation types are basically safe enough for kids to practice. But as soon as cars enter the equation, a certain number of people die violent deaths, crushed under the wheels of heavy machinery plying through residential areas.

    Why do we accept that kids can get killed “crossing the street?” Because car companies have told us this is acceptable by way of the commercial media they’ve been funding since it was created.

  31. In traffic design, it is just as bad as most other states. Delaware and Nevada are the only states outside the bible belt that are worse. This isn’t plain ignorance, it’s plain concern for your lives. Obviously bible belt states are doing something wrong in road design, is it the same thing?

  32. When you over generalize and say everything is done wrong from California to North Carolina in the Southern part of the country that is ignorance. I’ve lived in different parts of the country and there are vast differences in parts of the north and different parts of the south. And even if it is something done just in the southern states it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily road design. I’ve been to Boston, NYC, etc. The roads look pretty much the same to me. Northern New Jersey in the NYC suburbs are the worst pedestrian environment I’ve seen in the country. So, you can’t over generalize.

  33. Why don’t all of the people from Michigan, Illinois, NY, MA, etc stop moving here and demanding large single family homes. We aren’t asking for it. You sell your house in NY for $600K and buy a house on a large SF lot here and that’s what is demanded here. My kids are from NC but literally none of their friends are from NC. All Michigan, Ilinois, New Jersey, Maryland, etc. And they all want big SF houses. That drives the way roads are designed.

  34. We’re doing our best to design walkable places but people that just moved here from NY or Boston say, “But we don’t want that. It’s just like what we were trying to get away from”. So we are up against a lot of people that don’t want walkable development. But at the same time we have the most new urbanist type developments in the country to attempt to handle all this growth.

  35. It’s a fair point that people are demanding that style of growth. Perhaps the difference between the difference is simply that there is more development from the auto era and in auto-dominated styles?
    Again, it isn’t ignorance to state facts, that’s the opposite of ignorance. Ignorance would be saying ‘people in the bible belt crash more’, observation would be saying ‘the observed crash rate is higher across the bible belt’.

  36. Poor engineering and predatory ticketing of safe drivers will not help, this stuff causes harm. It is totally true that people walking and biking break rules and do silly things, which put them at risk. Anyone who gets out enough sees it occur. Without cars, we would be still living in tents or something similar. What brings the stuff you buy? Trucks, right?

  37. Swipe at Christianity? What? What are you even talking about? I can’t take anything else you say seriously after that.

    Also nobody every died from wearing black at night, and I seriously doubt wearing black at night is a recent trend significant enough to drive up pedestrian deaths.

  38. Do you really think trolling a website that promotes public transportation, walking, and biking is the best way to spread your message?

  39. Actually Southern States tend to be the worst at everything. Unemployment, education, public health, income, pedestrian deaths…

  40. My goal is to offer the realities of what actually happens. Only realities matter, not “pie in the sky” hopes. People make far better plans and decisions if they understand the realities.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  41. You have been caught misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misrepresenting “realities” repeatedly.

    My theory is you’re here so you can provoke reactions that you can show off to other extremists. You’re like the fundamentalists who go to college campuses with a video recorder.

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