Cyclist and Pedestrian Deaths Skyrocket in 2018 as Motorists Stay Safe

Cyclist fatalities rose 10 percent and pedestrian deaths increased 4 percent nationally while traffic fatalities overall fell 1 percent in 2018, federal data shows.

Cyclist and pedestrian fatalities are rising even though the total number of traffic crash deaths fell in 2018.

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

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.”

24 thoughts on Cyclist and Pedestrian Deaths Skyrocket in 2018 as Motorists Stay Safe

  1. Pedestrians staring at smartphones tends to be the latest victim blaming explanation for a rise in pedestrian deaths. But last year bicyclist deaths increased even more than pedestrians. Bicyclists are a group who rarely use smartphones while on the road.

  2. It is time for collective punishment of drivers, by legalizing auto theft and vandalism until the kill rates drop.

  3. Pedestrians should avoid intersections with crosswalks and ‘walk’ lights. I was run over, while trusting them! Since then (30 years ago) I ignore them– JayWalking is much safer.

  4. On some new cars such as the Toyota Corolla has pre-collision system with pedestrian & bicycle detection

    Pedestrians should not cross in the middle of the street, use crosswalks and pay attention to your surroundings

  5. I have looked at the data. We are seeing a number of trends. Cars get safer each year since the 1920’s, that is clear, and certainly since 1972. Bikes are safer in rural areas and more dangerous in cities. This is suggesting, recreational biking and commute biking have different elements. This is true of hiking versus city walking. How many hikers are injured fatally per year? How many pedestrians in cities?

  6. Some observation as a frequent cyclist/pedestrian and as a professional planner:

    -Cars are bigger and more powerful than ever which encourages speeding and makes drivers feel more disconnected from the street.
    -Bumpers are higher, placing them directly at ped/cyclist torso level.
    -Drivers are more distracted than ever. It’s not even the texting – it’s the constant looking at nav maps for even the shortest trips.
    -Navigation apps, including the ones Uber/Lyft drivers use, are bringing higher-speed through traffic onto local residential streets where peds/cyclists don’t expect it.
    -Younger people (and older ones) want to walk and cycle more and are doing so even on streets that aren’t designed for it.
    -The traffic engineering profession still prioritizes traffic speed over multi-modal safety at many levels of government.

  7. We need to push back hard on the “pedestrians using smartphones” blaming. The people who died while walking on my small city’s streets in the last 10 years were not using their smartphones. Overall, they were older people (>55years old) who were walking on streets and roads where the typical person drives over 35 mph. Three of eight were actually on the sidewalk. Three were in crosswalks. The rest were crossing a multilane road where crosswalks are many hundreds of feet to 1/4 mile apart.

  8. At least two factors involved:
    1) More miles being driven. Gas is cheap and the economy is better than it was in 2009. There is a direct correlation between vehicle miles driven and crashes involving pedestrians.
    2) Distracted driving.

  9. One thing I noticed about bigger cars as they became more common over the last 30 years is that they are a problem even when parked. So many turns have become nearly blind because the cars parked on the side of the road are now SUV’s that much more perfectly obstruct the view of the street, pedestrians, bikes, etc.

    It used to be that you could see people walking down the sidewalk over the parked cars, the cars on the road, you could see people walking around anywhere in a parking lot. Now you often can’t because the cars are taller than the people.

  10. The numbers of deaths in 1990 were greater than any year since. Miles driven, numbers of SUV’s, numbers of cyclists and miles ridden, distracted driving have all increased significantly since then. The only factor that has decreased is drunk driving, so these other explanations are only for the last ten years, in particular the last 4-5 when deaths spiked, but ignore previous carnage when they were lower, but deaths were higher. We need to identify Factor X. Could it be driver hostility?

  11. I think you should direct more attention and resources at non-motorists. They seem to hear the message and are complying. That’s true of the auto manufacturers.

  12. The report says that fatalities involving large trucks are up 3%. American regulation of trucks is inadequate. Need rules to increase driver’s visibility and prevent underride crashes.

  13. In my very large, very dangerous county, 200 pedestrians died on Interstate highways (not at an intersection) between 2010 and 2019. 111 of these tested positive for drugs or alcohol or both. Granted, this is only about 5% of all crash deaths during that time, but if we’re going to achieve Vision Zero, the drunk and drugged pedestrians playing Freeway Frogger count too.

    (Source: TxDOT’s Crash Query Tool: )

  14. Number one: Drivers and pedestrians using cell phones. Also, PEDESTRIANS thinking they have the right-of-way just because their little foot steps off the curb. Pedestrian responsibility needs to be re-instituted in the DMV vehicle code. I have seen MANY pedestrians not even LOOK to see if a driver has seen them. I would never step off a curb if I didn’t have the eye of a driver, and I don’t have a cell phone in my hand when I am walking. In fact, I insist that a driver precede me if there is a question of right-of-way. It is so much easier for a pedestrian to put on their “foot” brake than a driver to stop a two-ton vehicle. Peds, beware, I will honk at you to get your attention.

  15. Part of the problem in my area is that patrols are nowhere to be seen. It seems that the sheriff only shows up when some drunk kills himself or his passengers by rocketing off the road (speed limit 45) and plowing into a tree.

    We used to have regular patrols, but I haven’t seen a patrol car in months–and the speeding drivers have apparently noticed the absence as well.

  16. There needs to be roads designed for bicycles with a designated side lane, preferably with some sort of barrier speed bump thing to separate cars from bicycles and pedestrians. And everyone needs to take partial responsibility for their own safety. Look both ways before crossing and keep looking, cars, when the parking is bumper to bumper so you can’t tell if a person is getting ready to cross in between cars, try to stay a bit more to the left side of your lane to give you a couple of extra seconds to react, but slow down and be prepared for anyone walking out. Bicycles, frequently they are the worst offenders of ignoring safety recommendations. They want to be in the auto lane, but if the light changes, they keep on going like they are a pedestrian. There are places where there are protected bike lanes, and the cyclist chooses to ride in the auto lane instead, bicycles will ride side by side as opposed to single file, and will cut in and out of slow traffic. There need to be standard traffic laws that govern bicycles on public roads. With everyone just doing their own thing, drivers don’t know what to expect and might be unprepared for a movement that they did not anticipate. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, but bikes especially, need to have specific traffic laws and if they violate one, they need to be given a ticket. Also, things like reflective tape on things of people’s bike/jacket/etc will make it easier for you to be seen at night.

  17. Distracted driving is a serious issue. Too many drivers think it’s ok to use a cellphone at the wheel, despite plenty of research showing it’s as dangerous as DUI (and more so if texting or using the Internet).

  18. Bicycle infrastructure is nice, but not a solution. As one poster noted, the emphasis is on vehicular speed, not multi-modal safety. Enforcement must be a top priority, and that means fundamental revisions to traffic laws, penalties, and liability where a collision occurs between a vehicle, bicycle, or walker. I mean, prison time, hefty fines, and tort. Add to that a public education program and a few high profile prosecutions. This is what happened with impaired driving over the years. Once that’s done, just start adding the necessary 4-foot bicycle lanes to roads instead of those ridiculous 18 inch gutter lanes I see all the time.

  19. Separated bike lanes aren’t a solution either until there is real enforcement to keep vehicles out. Just yesterday I watched a UPS driver road down a separated bike lane at 50+ mph in a 25mph zone in downtown Denver. He was avoiding the backup from construction. I’ve seen Uber drivers do that all the time too. Last week while on a separate bike path with no road near it a Chevy with a fart muffler nearly ran me over. Entitled drivers just feel they can driver wherever they please and the cops won’t do a thing about it.

  20. Drivers have no fear of law enforcement. There should be, administered by police, destruction of cell phones (same as pouring that bottle of booze out on the ground) confiscation and destruction of cars, and beating of white middle and upper class drivers. Every American driver should have the same fear of police as black drivers in chronically racist police jurisdictions. Drivers’ primary emotion on getting behind the wheel has to be fear of police.

  21. Walking, cycling, and driving all demand full attention to the tasks to remain safe around all other road users. Distraction of many types is a key cause of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. When our 16 year old grandson started driving a couple of years ago, the rule was his cell phone and any cell phones of passengers were turned off and in the trunk.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  22. Let’s do better loving and accepting each other, then we’d always pay better attention, in the car, on the walk, and across the pedestrian crossing. We live together, let’s act that way. Also, this is a great conversation!

  23. Let’s get rid of RIGHT ON RED. Most people around where I live (Montgomery County, Maryland) treat a red light like a green right-turn arrow — they don’t even stop and look for pedestrians in the crosswalk before making their turns — and often their view of the crosswalk is blocked by SUVs to the left of them.

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