Pedestrian Deaths Reach New High — Drivers Entirely to Blame

Pedestrians are dying in epically high numbers, with driver distraction one of the causes.
Pedestrians are dying in epically high numbers, with driver distraction one of the causes.

Pedestrian deaths were up 35 percent last year, compared to a decade ago, thanks to the rise of heavy SUVs, population growth in regions that do not prioritize walking and distracted driving, a new report shows.

The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated that roughly 6,227 pedestrians were killed last year, the highest pedestrian fatality figure since 1990 and 35 percent more than were killed 10 years ago.

This is what a pedestrian safety crisis looks like. Graph: Governor's Highway Safety Association
This is what a pedestrian safety crisis looks like. Graph: Governor’s Highway Safety Association

GHSA’s data shows that the multi-year trend of soaring pedestrian deaths is not reversing. The alarming rise comes as traffic deaths of all kinds have declined over the last decade.

“The report is an urgent wake up call that pedestrian safety needs to be a top priority,” GHSA spokesman Jonathan Adkins told Streetsblog. “Significant infrastructural improvements are needed as is focused-enforcement of traffic laws.”

GHSA outlined some factors that seem to be contributing to the increase:


Graph: GHSA
Graph: GHSA

The rise of SUVs, which have replaced sedans as the top-selling passenger vehicle type in the last few years, is now widely recognized as a culprit.

Pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs have increased 50 percent in the last five years. That’s compared with 30 percent for sedans, GHSA reports.

A raft of recent research shows that SUVs present special risks to pedestrians. A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study showed they are 2.5 to 3 times as likely to kill a pedestrian than a car. And the effect is worse for children. They also lengthen the stopping distance and increase blind spots, making collisions more likely in the first place.

Population growth in the sunbelt

Just five states account for 45 percent of total pedestrian fatalities. They are concentrated in the sun belt. Map: GHSA
Just five states account for 45 percent of total pedestrian fatalities. They are concentrated in the sun belt. Map: GHSA

Some of the fastest growing states — Arizona, Texas, Florida — are also some of the most dangerous for pedestrians. Sun Belt states. Five states — Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — account for almost half of all pedestrian deaths.

Per-capita pedestrian fatality rates are concentrated in the Southeast. Mississippi, for example, saw its pedestrian fatality rate increase 42 percent over the last year. But some in state leadership are still pretty clueless about the causes. Here’s what a Mississippi Senator said yesterday in a Congressional hearing.

Other factors

Distracted driving may also be a factor. In addition GHSA noted that pedestrian fatalities were more likely to occur at night and at non-intersection locations. That, however, is nothing new. The organization also noted that more pedestrian than drivers involved in fatal crashes had elevated blood alcohol levels, but since many pedestrian crashes are hit-and-runs, too much shouldn’t be made of that statistic.

GHSA recommended states use targeted enforcement, more complete streets and public awareness campaigns to combat the trend. Cities that have worked very conscientiously to reduce traffic deaths, however, have made some notable progress, especially New York City. In contract with the national trend, pedestrian deaths are down 71 percent in NYC since 1990.

43 thoughts on Pedestrian Deaths Reach New High — Drivers Entirely to Blame

  1. “The organization also noted that more pedestrian than drivers involved in fatal crashes had elevated blood alcohol levels, but since many pedestrian crashes are hit-and-runs, too much shouldn’t be made of that statistic.”

    NO — the report actually says:

    “Alcohol impairment is a major factor. An estimated 32 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes
    involved a pedestrian with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, and an estimated 17 percent of drivers
    involved in these crashes had a BAC of 0.08 or higher. ” — Nothing about how this number can be ignored “since many pedestrian crashes are hit-and-runs.”

  2. How then to you account for the hit-and-run driver’s BAC when it is unknown? Add to that one of the main motivations to leave the scene of the collision is occurs when the driver may be DUI and doesn’t want to face felony charges.

  3. It seems to be standard now. Nevermind that we cannot even use crosswalks when we have the walk sign. Cars turning without looking for us, cars blocking the crosswalk. You cannot get across the street. Saw several kids cross on red today because it is impossible to cross on green. Too many wheels in the crosswalk. I stay put, especially when there are kids, because I do not want to be a bad example.

  4. We need more enforcement, yes. But, it is truly alarming how many people are driving now that do not know the laws about their responsibility to pedestrians. Doesn’t help that the alternative vehicles break them, too.

  5. There was a big drop in miles traveled by automobile as a result of the 2008 recession. That’s probably why there’s a dip in 2009.

    If we build infrastructure with the goal of giving everyone viable alternatives to cars, we’ll save thousands of lives.

  6. I imagine that first clause is what the organization “noted,” and the second clause is commentary.

    I don’t really understand why pedestrians who have been drinking should be faulted for their own death. They chose not to use a deadly vehicle, someone else made a different choice.

  7. Torture the numbers long enough and they will confess to any point of view you want to make. I highly suggest that those interested in the topic read the actual report and not rely on the obvious spin by the author.

  8. The map shows numbers, but rates would be more appropriate, not so heavily influenced by three high population states. Rates based on trips or distance would be best, but little data is available. Even per population would be more useful in developing solutions that are simple counts.

  9. the chart shows an increase in fatalities after 2008, which means that there were more fatalities per capita mile traveled

  10. I’ve been reading some posts here, as well as some speculations about this increase after 2008. Some of them are really interesting: including the 2008 financial crisis forcing more people to use public transportation or commute on foot, some mention the use of iPhone and controlled drug abuse.

  11. I’m honestly not sure what you’re trying to say. I don’t see a chart that includes person-miles, and the chart with fatalities clearly shows the lowest pedestrian fatalities in 2009.

  12. Fatality rates based on distance tend to skew the data. Total fatalities are likely on the rise precisely because people are traveling longer distances and driving more. The solution is fewer people choosing to do that.

  13. I was speaking of pedestrian trips or distances. If one state has twice as many people as another, the simple relationship would be twice as many fatalities. But that tells nothing, which I why I think the map is not useful.

  14. Speeds in Manhattan have also decreased over the years due to the increase in traffic.

  15. You might want to test that theory by walking. On a daily basis, drivers block crosswalks while they talk on their phone or otherwise use it. They are regularly on their phone when they make a right turn through occupied crosswalks.

  16. Information that doesn’t show up in media and government accounts on pedestrian safety:
    A NHTSA study found that 60% of pedestrian deaths are the fault of the pedestrian.
    The results of a Florida study are that 80% of pedestrians survive when struck by a vehicle traveling 40 mph, and 90% of children survive when struck by a vehicle traveling 40 mph.
    The Governors Highway Safety Association is an anti-driver organization not interested in highway safety, but in unfair enforcement-for-profit through speed cameras and red light cameras. Cameras make highways more dangerous, not less.

  17. Is the smartphone lobby the new tobacco lobby? Do control+F “phone” in this article and get no hits! Who is playing who here. The elephant in room is right there.

  18. he author shows SUV sales from 2008 on, why not show that from 1990 to test the hypothesis that it is those evil big trucks and the people who drive them that are causing this spike? because it will debunk it.

  19. You can link to your dash cam from your cell phone, so then you can see the road from your phone when you’re driving.

  20. So, then they can only see straight ahead of themselves. Is that why they completely ignore pedestrians waiting to cross the street? They do not look left or right?

  21. The sad truth is that MANY of us are totally self-absorbed – both drivers and pedestrians, and dangerously inattentive to traffic, people, or anything around them at all! Whether that’s about cell phones or music or whatever – doesn’t matter. It’s an attitude, a behavior. The difference is, the driver of a car is moving much faster, with several tons of kinetic energy! I am President of a Walking Club and we pay close attention when our group(s) are out on events! Many, many, many Americans have no regard whatsoever for pedestrians or cyclists when they drive. So unless a person steps off the curb right in front of your car, I’ll side with the walkers!

  22. Although I never use my cell phone while driving I still find it hard to adjust radio,air, and the like on my dash. The way controls are set up now causes distracted driving. The last car I could adjust without taking my eyes off the road was a 2005 that had no menus, no arrow buttons, just knobs that you push or turn. Not only have the controls gotten more complicated, there is less and less window to see out of. Is anyone studying the problem of bad auto design? Sure there are drivers who continue to use their phones, but what if they aren’t the only problem?

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  24. The desire to put the blame on other things like SUVs and population growth is laughable and irresponsible. ALL the blame should be on all the GD people looking down at their GD cell phone while they’re driving. I see it 20 times a day and you can spot these kinds of assholes easily. They weave a lot and they use their brakes when there is no need to with nothing in front of them. They are slow to go after the light turns green and are the ones in front of you that are always hard-braking. Cell phone use while driving is going to end up being a bigger killer than drunk driving. Period.

  25. I don’t believe that stat even if it was an NHTSA stat.

    “Blame” or “fault” are complicated topics. One can look at these purely as legal terms. I prefer to look at the broader picture. Even if drivers are legally allowed to go 45 mph through an urban neighborhood, that doesn’t mean they aren’t partially to blame. It just means they aren’t criminally liable.

    And fault or blame aside, there are still things we can do to make pedestrians safer. Our laws don’t cause pedestrians to step out into traffic but our laws are to blame for that traffic traveling at lethal speeds.

  26. Pedestrians get hit by buses and light rail trains, too…not just SUVs. Is it safe to assume that in those cases it’s “entirely” the fault of the train or bus operator? This is my problem with Angie’s nonsense. It’s so transparently agenda driven. As a serious person who cycles everywhere, I feel this sort of mindless ranting is not helpful. All it does is cause both sides to dig in. That accomplishes nothing.

  27. I have come to believe in the collective punishment of all drivers in the zip code of every pedestrian killing. For 30 days after every such incident, the arson, vandalism, and theft of automobiles should be legalized. It would be a good thing to turn drivers into timid, ultra cautions beings who stay 5mph below posted limits and stop at EVERY crosswalk, marked or otherwise.

  28. Don’t fucking care. The law should fall most heavily on those who can do the most damage. And, no, emotional damage to a driver ain’t shit compared to the physical damage that they can do to a pedestrian or cyclist. There is not even the most remotely reasonable comparison.

  29. The street isn’t a playground. People don’t travel at “lethal speeds.” They travel at a sped they feel safe, and that translates into a 70 year old highway engineering principle called the 85th Percentile Speed, the safest speed with the most compliance.
    The attitude that PEDESTRIANS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY! and IT’S THE LAW! CARS HAVE TO STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS!!! teaches people that they can walk into traffic, the laws of physics and common sense be damned.
    What you can do to make pedestrians safer is teach them something I learned in First Grade: Look left, then look right, then look left again, and when it is clear (and safe) you can cross. Believe what you want.

  30. Responsibility and perception are separate topics to how dangerous it is to have cars driven at various speeds. You appear to be denying that faster traffic is more lethal. If that’s the case, there’s no point in continuing this discussion.

  31. Since most citizens, most places, are motorists, your modest proposal seems unlikely to be either accepted or effective.

  32. Excellent article. (typo in the last sentence however: “In **contrast** with the national trend, pedestrian deaths are down 71 percent in NYC since 1990.”)

  33. Although the problem is mostly caused by distracted/unsafe drivers, pedestrians should be more mindful of the fact that in a conflict with a car, the car always wins. E.g., when in a crosswalk, I NEVER walk in front of a car that’s still moving. Many people just blindly walk across, trusting drivers to see them and stop. If you’re walking, just pay attention. Heaven forbid, you might have to stop staring at your cell phone for a few minutes.

  34. Any study that claims only drivers are responsible for pedestrian deaths is likely biased. For one thing, the headline blames drivers, but cites the characteristics of SUVs. A crosswalk between the Chester County Courthouse and its parking lot saw a crash where a woman lose the use of her leg a couple years ago. The county then installed a sign instructing walkers to make sure a car can stop before crossing. Pedestrians routinely just assume a car can and will stop. Laws that give pedestrians an absolute right-of-way are simply unsafe and unfair. Such articles always ignore the substantial contributions made by pedestrians who are inattentive or make stupid decisions, crossing when they don’t know the car can or will stop, as I say. We all need to work on this problem, and that includes the pedestrians, who have a 360-degree field of view and can stop instantly. Further, the new fuzzy logic where crosswalks are installed willy-nilly without any kind of signalization makes another substantial contribution. Streetsblog needs to start attempting to be objective, rather than anti-car.

  35. Tom – Imagine that 15% of the population get to change the rules – so if 15% of pedestrians decide to machine gun passing cars, that will become acceptable.

    Again you blame the victims rather than accept that several tons of metal is a lethal object.

    Here is the original text from the Atlantic: “As a matter of law, the operating-speed method is exceptional. It enables those who violate the law—speeding motorists—to rewrite it: Speed limits ratchet higher until no more than 15 percent of motorists violate them. The perverse incentives are obvious. Imagine a rule saying that, once 15 percent of Americans acquired an illegal type of machine gun, that weapon would automatically become legal. “

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