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Pedestrian deaths remain U.S.’s highest since 1990

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5,984 walkers were killed in the U.S. in 2017

Pedestrian deaths leveled off in 2017 but are still higher than they’ve been in 33 years.
Cheryl Juetten

Another study has confirmed that U.S. streets are not getting safer for pedestrians. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that the number of walkers killed on roadways hit a 33-year high in 2017, even as all other kinds of traffic deaths decreased.

“Despite the apparent leveling off of pedestrian fatalities, 2017 is still on par to become the second consecutive year with nearly 6,000 pedestrian deaths,” according to Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting, who authored the report. “The last time the U.S. saw more than 6,000 pedestrian deaths was 1990.”

The report uses state data to provide preliminary pedestrian fatality numbers before the official count by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which will be available later this year. FARS data estimated in late 2017 that 37,461 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2016.

According to GHSA’s 2017 data, five states—California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Arizona—account for nearly half (43 percent) of all pedestrian deaths, and Arizona had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities.

Interestingly, the state of Hawaii, where Honolulu lawmakers are ticketing people for using phones in crosswalks, has the lowest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident, according to this data. There was just one walker killed in the entire state in the first half of 2017.


The study also looks at 10-year trends, which show other troubling statistics. The number of walkers killed on U.S. streets have increased by 27 percent since 2007, while all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent. In addition, the percentage of pedestrian deaths as a proportion of total traffic fatalities has increased from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2016.

After decades of decline, traffic deaths had begun to creep up over the last few years. What this study and others like it show is that while cars are getting safer for drivers and passengers, streets are getting more dangerous for walkers.

It’s also important to note that the U.S. is an outlier when it comes to traffic deaths. A recent comparison of morality rates of 20 wealthy democratic countries showed that, overall, the U.S. reduced road fatalities by 23 percent from 2000 to 2011, while the other 19 countries reduced rates by 26 to 64 percent over the same period. U.S. children are twice as likely to die in traffic fatalities compared to other wealthy nations.

Recommendations from the study to decrease pedestrian deaths include engineering changes to streets like road diets, roundabouts, and curb extensions, and lighting improvements, as 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. Additionally, the report recommends installing speed cameras, which are not currently legal in all states.

Although the report tries to make connections between the legislation of marijuana and smartphone use as reasons for the increase in pedestrian deaths, a report last year from the National Transportation Safety Board said speed and alcohol consumption were the main factors responsible for the uptick in traffic deaths.

On the local scale, some cities have managed to dramatically buck these trends. In 2017, both New York and San Francisco both saw the lowest number of pedestrian deaths since the widespread adoption of the automobile. This is largely thanks to the cities’ well-funded Vision Zero programs, a widespread movement to eliminate traffic deaths in cities.

Materials from San Francisco’s Vision Zero campaign shows how speed is deadly.

But not all Vision Zero cities are seeing similar success. In a report released this week by Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation, LA saw a slight decrease in traffic deaths in 2017 but a large increase in pedestrian deaths. In 2017, 134 walkers were killed in the city, the highest number in 15 years. Yesterday, the city announced it was changing the way it enforces speed limits in an effort to address pedestrian deaths. According to the city’s Vision Zero action plan, cars now kill more Angelenos than gang violence.