Story at a glance

  • A study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association documented a rise in pedestrian deaths.
  • Drowsy driving and smartphone distractions are likely culprits.

A new study shows that pedestrian deaths are on the rise in the U.S. 

Conducted over a 10 year period from 2009 to 2018 by the Governors Highway Safety Association GHSA), the study found that the number of pedestrian fatalities jumped by 53 percent over the decade, specifically from a recorded 4,109 deaths in 2009 to a recorded 6,283 in 2018. 

These numbers resulted in pedestrian traffic deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths rising from 21 percent in 2009 to 17 percent by 2018. The last time pedestrian deaths were this prominent was in 1982. 

Report authors offer several reasons for the increase in pedestrian deaths. The skyrocketing popularity of smartphone usage, which can “be a significant source of both cognitive and visual distraction for all road users.” 

Smartphone use while driving has been a prevalent legal topic over the years, with the National Conference of State Legislature (NSCL) reporting that 20 states, as well as D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands outlawed talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. A further 48 states, along with D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have outlawed texting while driving. 

A national trend shifting driver preference to light trucks — such as SUVs — from passenger cars may also explain the gradual increase in fatalities, considering pedestrian deaths involving light trucks rose by a whopping 81 percent over the 10 years, while deaths related to passenger cars only rose 53 percent within the same time frame. 

The report also notes that warmer weather has a positive association with drinking and outdoor activities, like walking and running, which can also explain heightened pedestrian fatalities. 

Recorded in 2018, a majority 59 percent of fatal accidents involving pedestrians occurred on Non-Freeway Arterials, or main roads carrying a mix of local and regional traffic. Local streets are the site of the next highest rate of pedestrian deaths at 22 percent, and the remaining 16 percent occurred on Freeways. 

About three-quarters of fatalities occur during “dark” light conditions, or at night. 

While five states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas — saw large pedestrian fatalities that ultimately resulted in approximately 47 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the U.S., some states and territories saw improvements. 

Six states —Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Mississippi — saw double-digit declines in the number and percent change in pedestrian deaths within the first half of 2018. 

The report concludes with solutions states can adopt, like policing high-risk zones, public information campaigns and safety audits. 

“Each year, thousands of additional people are dying in pedestrian crashes compared to a decade ago” said report author Richard Retting in a press release. “Following 30 years of declining pedestrian fatalities, there has been a complete reversal of progress. Pedestrians are at an inherent disadvantage in collisions, and we must continue to take a broad approach to pedestrian safety.”

Published on Feb 28, 2020