Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Aggressive Driving

Cyclist and Pedestrian Deaths Skyrocket in 2018 as Motorists Stay Safe

Road deaths were up 10 percent in 2021.

America's roads are safe increasingly for only those who drive on them.

For the second year in a row, cyclist and pedestrian fatalities rose while the overall number of traffic deaths fell across the country, according to federal projections compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The group's preliminary finding shows that 36,750 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year — a decline of about 1 percent from the 37,133 fatalities in 2017. But cyclist fatalities soared 10 percent and pedestrian deaths rose four percent last year, the NHTSA estimated. Motorist fatalities fell slightly.

The NHTSA said it was "too soon to speculate" on why pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists are dying in greater numbers, but analysts have long explained the rising body count. New cars in the American market, for example, are becoming significantly safer and more reliable for drivers than older ones, the NHTSA has found, but those bigger cars tend to be safer only for people inside the vehicle.

Meanwhile, cities and suburbs are increasingly promoting walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and commutes, which often cause increases in pedestrian and bike travel even before streets have been properly redesigned for safety.

Too many roadways remained designed only for car drivers, so they lack protected or separated bike lanes or longer crossing signals for pedestrians. And thanks to smartphones, drivers are becoming more distracted than ever. There were 3,166 people killed from distracted driving in 2017 alone. Pedestrian deaths have been on a steady rise since 2009, when smartphones became ubiquitous.

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

Transportation safety advocates say cities also need to lower speed limits and increase traffic enforcement to save cyclist and pedestrian lives.

“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got safe places to walk, good crosswalks, and that we enforce traffic laws," Jonathan Adkins, executive director with the Governors Highway Safety Association, told WTOP-FM. "When the public thinks they’re going to get a ticket, they slow down, they wear their seat belts, they don’t drive impaired."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday Video: Debunking Engineers’ Excuses … With The Power of Hip-Hop

Buff Brown breaks down how to bust through traffic engineers' bullshit, one bar at a time.

June 14, 2024

Friday’s Headlines Are Dirty Rotten Thieves

Where do all the stolen bikes go? Apparently, a lot of them end up with a single thief south of the border.

June 14, 2024

New Poll: S.F. Voters Want Better Transit, Safer Streets, and More Car-Free Spaces

Safe and livable streets issues are winning issues. When will more Bay Area politicos realize that fact?

June 13, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: Killed by a Traffic Engineer

Author Wes Marshall on writing process, the ideas of risk and exposure and what he learned from pouring over old transportation engineering journals.

June 13, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines Stroll to the Store

All evidence to the contrary, business owners persist in their belief that any change affecting motorists, like congestion pricing, will lead to their ruination.

June 13, 2024
See all posts