Projected 2020 U.S. pedestrian death rate on pace for record high, report says

Analysis found that from January through June 2020, 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes

March 29, 2021 / 2 minute read
Projected 2020 U.S. pedestrian death rate on pace for record high, report says
Image: Governors Highway Safety Association

new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projects that the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate rose 20% in the first six months of 2020.

GHSA says this spike in pedestrian fatalities came as speeding, distracted and impaired driving, and other dangerous driving behaviors increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety offers the first comprehensive look at state and national trends in 2020 pedestrian traffic deaths, based on preliminary data provided by State Highway Safety Offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.).

The analysis found that from January through June 2020, 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes—six more than the same period in 2019. Factoring in a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationwide, the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians jumped to 2.2 deaths per billion VMT, a significant and unsettling increase from 1.8 deaths the year before.

If this pattern continues for the second half of the year as many traffic safety experts fear, 2020 is projected to have the largest ever annual increase in the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per mile driven, GHSA says.

“Walking should not be a life and death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “The traffic safety community should focus on a comprehensive approach that uses every tool available to save lives, including engineering, community outreach, emergency response and equitable enforcement that prioritizes the prevention of driving behaviors—like speeding, distraction, and impairment—that pose the greatest threats to non-motorized road users.”

The GHSA report also examines 2019 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), finding that pedestrians accounted for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019, compared to 13% in 2010. While pedestrian deaths have risen by 46% over the past decade, the number of all other traffic deaths has increased by only 5%. Although advancements in motor vehicle safety and technology have increased survivability for vehicle occupants involved in crashes, pedestrians are not so protected and remain susceptible to serious or fatal injuries when struck by a motor vehicle.

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SOURCE: Governors Highway Safety Association

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