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Pedestrian fatalities hit highest rate in 40 years

An average of 20 pedestrians were struck and killed by motorists each day in the United States last year, according to estimates compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). This equates to a total of 7,485 people for the year. For those who keep a grim record of these statistics, last year represents the highest number of pedestrian fatalities recorded in four decades. You’d have to go all the way back to 1982 to find a year with more pedestrian fatalities than 2021. That’s a 12% increase from last year, a figure that represents 774 more lives lost in 2021 than to 2020.

Stats buffs will also note that the ratio of pedestrian fatalities to miles traveled has also increased. Preliminary data from the GHSA indicates that there were 2.32 pedestrian fatalities per billion miles traveled in 2021. That’s a bit up from last year – although the year’s figures last were an anomaly due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – and are “well above the pre-pandemic average of 1.9. The death rate per 100,000 people also increased in 2021, rising to 2.26 from 2.02 the previous year.

Alarmingly, the report includes data analyzed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which indicates that “the percentage of speeding-related pedestrian crashes involving children 15 and under has more than doubled in the previous three years. “. The report further found that “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) were overrepresented in pedestrian crashes given their share of the population.”

Speeding is cited as a major contributing factor to increased pedestrian fatalities, along with distracted driving and driver or pedestrian impairment. According to the GHSA, “The average risk of death for pedestrians increases exponentially the faster a vehicle is traveling, rising from 10% at 23 mph to 90% at 58 mph.”

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Road Safety found an alarming trend that pickup trucks and SUVs are much more likely to be involved in pedestrian fatalities than small cars. The GHSA report includes statistics compiled over the past decade which indicate that “fatalities caused by SUVs have increased by 36%, while deaths caused by passenger cars have increased by 27% over the same period”. As we all know, sales of light trucks (which include trucks, SUVs, and vans) are up while sales of small cars are down. These statistics, however, strip the number of sales from the image, calculating the incident rate instead of the raw number. The heavier weight and reduced visibility of large and tall vehicles is cited as a contributing factor to pedestrian fatalities by the GHSA report.

The states with the largest increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2021 compared to 2020 were Florida (+183) and Texas (+111). The number of pedestrian fatalities in California fell by 68, the largest reduction in fatalities of any state in 2021. New Mexico had the highest pedestrian fatality rate of any state, while the Maine, Massachusetts and Idaho had the lowest.

The full report is available here (PDF link), and it’s packed with stats we should all be aware of, whether we’re driving or walking or biking. The GHSA report also includes solutions to rising pedestrian fatality rates that are known to work. “The safe system approach provides a clear path to help stem the tide of pedestrian deaths,” says the GHSA. All of this is well worth the time it takes to read it.

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