Study finds ‘alarming rise’ in pedestrian deaths in U.S.
The number of pedestrians killed in traffic in the United States is approaching a three-decade high, contributing to what has been an “alarming rise” in such deaths in recent years, according to a new study.
An estimated 6,227 pedestrians were killed in traffic in 2018, according to the study from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a projection based on data from the first half of the year. That figure represents a striking rise from a decade earlier, when 4,109 pedestrians were killed in traffic.
“I’ve been in this business for 36 years and I’ve never seen a pattern like this,” said Richard Retting, who wrote the report and has worked in a variety of traffic engineering and safety roles for the New York City Department of Transportation, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other federal and local transportation agencies.
The report cited alcohol use, speeding, unsafe infrastructure and the prevalence of SUVs as some of the biggest problems contributing to the fatalities. It also suggested that the increased use of smartphones may contribute to such deaths. With smartphone use on the rise, both drivers and pedestrians are at risk of being increasingly distracted. According to the report, the number of smartphones in active use increased more than fivefold between 2009 and 2017 and was matched by an even larger increase in annual wireless data traffic.
“We are driving more and driving deadlier cars,” said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
In recent years, cities across the country have worked to tackle the problem, adopting “Vision Zero” plans with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities outright. But while many cities have made progress toward that goal, pedestrian deaths have proved difficult to eradicate.
In New York, for example, overall traffic deaths fell to their lowest levels in more than a century last year, though pedestrian deaths increased, mirroring the longer-term trend nationwide. Nationally, overall traffic deaths fell 6 percent from 2008 to 2017, but pedestrian deaths rose 35 percent over that same period.
Many of those deaths are occurring at night. From 2008 to 2017, the number of nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased by 45 percent while daytime pedestrian fatalities increased by 11 percent.
Five states accounted for nearly half of the projected deaths: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas.