Jun 27, 2023 - Health

The deadliest states for pedestrians

Pedestrian traffic fatality rate, 2022
Data: Governors Highway Safety Association; Map: Axios Visuals

Slower speeds on major arterial, or feeder, roads could go a long way toward reducing the nationwide scourge of rising pedestrian deaths, a new study suggests.

Why it matters: Cars are safer than ever for passengers thanks to new assisted-driving technologies, but people outside of vehicles are increasingly being hit and killed.

The biggest danger zone? Fast-moving roads alongside busy retail and service areas with lots of foot traffic.

  • In urban areas, such arterial roadways make up about 15% of all roads but account for 67% of pedestrian deaths, according to a report from StreetLight Data, which tracks mobility trends using anonymized cellphone data and other sources.

StreetLight Data measured average speeds on major roadways with heavy pedestrian activity in the 30 most populous U.S. cities.

  • The objective was to understand how fast vehicles are actually going and the impact on pedestrian safety, creating what it calls a "Safe Speed Index."

What they found: New York City, where 84.1% of major pedestrian roadways have average speeds under 25 mph, ranked first (meaning most safe).

  • Washington, D.C., follows at 70.4%, then San Francisco (66.1%), Boston (61.3%) and Chicago (60.6%).
  • In the remaining 25 cities, only 26% of arterial roads have average speeds under 25 mph, while 33% are in the "unsafe zone," with average speeds above 35 mph.

The intrigue: Vehicle-centric Southern cities, including Fort Worth, Jacksonville and Las Vegas, have the most dangerous speeds.

  • Phoenix ranks last among the top 30 cities, with 65% of pedestrian-heavy major roadways averaging vehicle speeds above 35 mph, making them especially dangerous.
Data: StreetLight Data; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: StreetLight Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: At least 7,508 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in the United States in 2022 — the most in 41 years — according to a separate report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

  • Pedestrian fatalities have skyrocketed 77% since 2010, compared to 25% for all other traffic-related deaths, the report found.

Zoom in: New Mexico (4.40), Arizona (4.17) and Florida (3.70) had among the country's highest rates of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2022, per the GHSA report.

Pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed in a collision when a car is traveling at 30 mph compared to 20 mph, and over five times more likely when the car is driving 40 mph, according to data from the AAA Foundation.

  • Time of day matters too; most pedestrian deaths occur at night.

What they're saying: "Every day, 20 people go for a walk and do not return home," GHSA CEO Jonathan Adkins said in a statement.

  • "These are people living their daily lives — commuting to and from school and work, picking up groceries, walking the dog, getting some exercise — who died suddenly and violently."
  • "The saddest part is that these crashes are preventable. We know what works: better-designed infrastructure, lower speeds, addressing risky driving behaviors that pose a danger to people walking."

What's next: The Biden administration is proposing a new rule that would set higher performance standards for automatic emergency braking and pedestrian-detection technology, potentially reducing pedestrian deaths.

Go deeper