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U.S. pedestrian deaths on pace for record increase, despite less driving, report shows

Entering West Virginia on Interstate 68. (MPD01605/Wikimedia Commons)

Pedestrian deaths are surging around the country, data shows, despite fewer drivers on the road, prompting traffic safety advocates to call on federal, state and local governments to enact new programs and initiatives aimed at bolstering pedestrian safety.

On Tuesday, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a new report analyzing national trends in pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2020.

Preliminary data provided by all 50 states indicated that 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes from January to June 2020.

The 2,957 pedestrians killed represents a total increase of just six from the 2,951 killed during the same time span in 2019.

However, the slight increase becomes increasingly concerning when viewed in the context of the reduction in driving that’s been observed over the past year as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During the first half of 2020, vehicle miles traveled dropped 16.5% across the country when compared to the first half of 2019, according to data.

When accounting for miles traveled, the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per billion vehicle miles traveled increased approximately 22% year-over-year, from 1.8 to 2.2.

If this trend is found to have continued throughout the year, it would mark the largest ever year-to-year increase in the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate.

While exacerbated in the past year by the coronavirus pandemic, rising numbers of pedestrian fatalities have long been an issue, with pedestrian deaths increasing 46% over the past decade, while all other motor vehicle fatalities increased just 5% during that time.

“Walking should not be a life-and-death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins.

The report indicated that, unsurprisingly, pedestrians are at the greatest risk while traveling at night. Over the past decade, the number of pedestrian fatalities occurring at night increased by 54%, compared to an increase of 16% during the day.

Alcohol consumption was also found to play a role in pedestrian fatalities, with approximately 50% of all crashes resulting in a pedestrian fatality involving alcohol impairment by the driver, pedestrian, or both.

As fatality rates continue to climb, experts are urging states and localities to develop multifaceted plans to help better protect the most vulnerable people on the road.

“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,” Adkins said.

On the bright side, New York was one of just nine states that saw double digit decreases in both the number and percentage of pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, data showed.

During the first half of 2020, New York saw 101 pedestrian fatalities, a 17% decrease from the 121 pedestrian fatalities observed during the same time period in 2019.


Staten Island has not been exempt from the national surge in pedestrian fatalities, with the latest example beng a 75-year-old pedestrian struck and killed in West Brighton earlier this month.

The male victim was crossing mid-block and was not in a designated area for pedestrians, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

That location is a stretch of Martling Avenue, between Manor Road and Slosson Avenue, where there isn’t a crosswalk to help pedestrians get across the street.

The crash involved a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, which was driven by an 81-year-old woman, according to the source. The pedestrian, who lives on Staten Island, suffered severe head trauma, the source said.

Officers found the 75-year-old man lying unconscious and unresponsive on the roadway.

EMS responded and transported the pedestrian to Richmond University Medical Canter in West Brighton, where he was pronounced dead, according to an NYPD statement.


Unfortunately, it’s not just pedestrian deaths that are on the rise.

Earlier this month, the National Safety Council (NSC) released preliminary data showing that an estimated 42,060 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, marking the highest number of roadway fatalities in the United States since 2007.

The increased number of deaths, coupled with the decreased number of vehicle miles driven, resulted in an estimated 24% increase in the rate of deaths on the road, the highest year-to-year increase since 1924, nearly a century ago.

In addition to the 42,000-plus deaths, there were an estimated 4.8 million serious injuries as a result of motor vehicle crashes in 2020, with an estimated cost to society nearing $500 billion, according to the NSC.

“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the NSC. “These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture. It is past time to address roadway safety holistically and effectively, and NSC stands ready to assist all stakeholders, including the federal government.”

The overwhelming majority of states experienced year-to-year increases in the number of roadway fatalities, with only nine states registering decreasing deaths: Maine (-1%), North Dakota (-1%), Alaska (-3%), New Mexico (-4%), Idaho (-7%), Nebraska (-9%), Delaware (-11%), Wyoming (-13%) and Hawaii (-20%).

Meanwhile, the remaining 41 states, plus Washington, D.C., all experienced increases in year-to-year deaths, with eight seeing jumps of over 15% compared to the previous year: Georgia (+18%), Mississippi (+19%), Connecticut (+22%), Rhode Island (+26%), Arkansas (+26%), Vermont (+32%), District of Columbia (+33%) and South Dakota (+33%).

In New York, the number of motor vehicle fatalities increased approximately 10%, from 873 in 2019 to 963 in 2020, according to the data.


(c) 2021 Staten Island Advance

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.