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Report: US Pedestrian Death Rate Increased 9x Faster Than Population During COVID

12:01 AM EST on February 28, 2023

Pedestrian deaths are continuing to skyrocket even as the pandemic wanes — and since 2019, the death rate for walkers has eclipsed the rate of population growth by a factor of at least nine, analysts say.

U.S. drivers killed 3,434 people on foot in the first six months of 2022, an increase of 5 percent over the same period the prior year — and a staggering 18 percent increase over the number of walkers who died in early 2019, the last year before the pandemic, according to the latest fatality estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Those numbers can't easily be explained by non-traffic-related factors, noting that since "2019, the last pre-pandemic year, pedestrian fatalities have surged 18 percent in just three years – nine times faster than U.S. population growth," the report said.

Estimates for the death toll in the second half of 2022 won't be out until spring, but if the trend continues, it will mean an average of 19 walkers lost their lives on U.S. roads every single day last year.

"It’s absolutely mind-boggling and heartbreaking," Jonathan Adkins, CEO of the association, said in a statement. "The only way to reverse this awful trend is to do more of everything that works — more and better designed infrastructure to keep people walking safe, equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws to stop dangerous driving and engaging more communities where the impacts of this crisis are felt the hardest.”

Graphic: GHSA
Graphic: GHSA. Click to view larger.
Graphic: GHSA

The news will come as disappointing if not particularly surprising to street safety advocates, many of whom hoped pedestrian deaths would ebb as pandemic restrictions waned and cars returned to U.S. roads, increasing congestion and leaving drivers with less space to reach deadly speeds. Instead, experts say that changing commute patterns caused traffic to spread more evenly throughout the day — and paired with increases in reckless driving behavior and the absence of other systemic interventions, deaths continued to surge.

According to the new data, some of those surges were even more alarming at the state level. When the group compared the first six months of 2021 with the same period in 2022, they found that walker deaths had increased a shocking 266.67 percent in Nebraska, 150 percent in New Hampshire, and 87.5 percent in Delaware.

Those dramatic numbers are partly explained by those states' small populations — all have fewer than two million residents — but the group points out that  large communities remain unacceptably dangerous, too. The three most populous states in America (California, Florida and Texas) posted 38 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in 2022 despite being home to just 28 percent of the U.S. population.

Regardless of a community's size, though, advocates emphasizes that the solution to surging pedestrian deaths across America is the same: dismantling the systemic factors that make American roads, vehicles, and drivers amongst the most dangerous in the developed world, and replacing them with the rigorous Safe Systems approach as outlined in the National Roadway Safety Strategy that US DOT adopted last year. Because if we don't, the pedestrian crisis is likely to continue — pandemic or no.

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