Taking a Walk Becoming Deadlier in the U.S. in 2021


The number of pedestrians killed in the U.S. is climbing, according to a new study from the Governors Highway Safety Association. 

Pedestrian safety
Pedestrian fatalities rose in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020 by 17 percent.

The study estimates drivers struck and killed 17% more pedestrians in the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, continuing a decadelong trend of rising pedestrian deaths on U.S. roadways. 

The rising death toll comes as speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and other dangerous driver behaviors remain at unacceptably high levels, the study observes. 

GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety report offers the first look at state and national trends in 2021 pedestrian traffic deaths, based on preliminary data provided by State Highway Safety Offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

Numbers on the rise

The analysis found nationwide, there were 1.04 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, up from 0.90 in both 2020 and 2019.  

The data also shows that the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians rose to 2.3 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled in the first six months of 2021. 

That’s an increase from the historically high rate of 2.2 deaths per billion VMT in 2020 and significantly more than the rate of 1.8-1.9, which remained steady 2017-2019, notes the data analysis conducted by Elizabeth Petraglia, Ph.D., of research firm Westat. 

Poor driving leads to more deaths 

Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities 2020 vs 2021

The study also cited factors such as the surge in dangerous driving that began at the start of the pandemic and has not abated, larger vehicles that are more likely to seriously injure or kill people on foot in the event of a crash, roads designed to prioritize fast-moving traffic over slower speeds that are safer for pedestrians, and inadequate infrastructure such as sidewalks and lighting in many parts of the country. 

“Walking is the most basic form of transportation, but there is a pedestrian safety crisis due to drivers speeding, being impaired or distracted, or engaging in other dangerous behaviors,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. 

“We need to leverage everything that works — infrastructure improvements, changes to road design, equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws and community outreach — to reverse this deadly trend and make our roadways safe for people walking, biking and rolling.”

During the last decade, pedestrian deaths have skyrocketed by more than 2,000 — from 4,457 in 2011 to 6,516 in 2020 — a 46% increase. Overall traffic fatalities are also surging. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 31,720 people died in crashes in the first three quarters of 2021, which is the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of any year since 2006.


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