Feb 21, 2022 - Economy

Pedestrian deaths are surging

Pedestrian traffic fatalities, 2000–2020
Data: Governors Highway Safety Association; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Pedestrian deaths from cars soared to record levels during the pandemic, according to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Why it matters: An uptick in dangerous driving behavior during the pandemic contributed to the dramatic increase in pedestrian deaths in 2020, despite less drivers being on the road.

By the numbers: Crashes killed more than 6,700 pedestrians in 2020, up about 5% from the estimated 6,412 in 2019, according to the association.

  • Seven states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Texas — accounted for more than half of all pedestrian deaths, and New Mexico had the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident population.
  • The group also projected that the pedestrian fatality rate, based on vehicle miles traveled, reached about 21% in 2020, underscoring the fact that deaths rose despite less cars on the road.

Between the lines: A number of factors contributed to the rising pedestrian deaths, including an increase in dangerous driving behavior, such as speeding, impaired driving and distraction, according to Adam Snider, director of communications at the Governors Highway Safety Association.

  • "Each of those behaviors on their own are incredibly dangerous and deadly, even in the best of times," Snider said.

Stress from the pandemic also contributed to dangerous driving outcomes, according to Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington.

  • "We're stressed in unusual ways ... and that stress shows up in people's behavior and one of the places that shows up in their behavior is driving outcomes," Hallenbeck told Axios.
  • Plus, an increase in large vehicles, which are more dangerous during a collision, and roads that have "incentives and designs to tell people to drive fast," have made roads more dangerous for pedestrians, Hallenbeck said.
  • Early indications suggest that 2021 was another deadly year for pedestrians, according to Snider.

The big picture: Deaths from motor vehicle crashes also reached record levels in 2021, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • An estimated 31,720 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes from January through September 2021, an increase of about 12%, and the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of any year since 2006.

The bottom line: "We've had so much loss and destruction and just a bad few years in general with the pandemic and it's really ... frustrating to see that compounded by the loss of life on our roads, much of which is completely preventable," Snider said.

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