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Pedestrian Deaths Reach New High — Drivers Entirely to Blame

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.

Here’s what @RogerWicker has to say about pedestrian deaths: the problem is “kids walking out into middle of the street with earbuds in.” Says his intern was hit by a car, survived, and he asked her, “what were you thinking?”

— Tanya Snyder (@TSnyderDC) February 28, 2019

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.

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