The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported that pedestrian deaths jumped from 6,711 deaths in 2020 to 7,485 deaths in 2021. This number is a 12% jump and places last year’s total the highest in 40 years and a top 10 most lethal years since the federal government began tracking pedestrian death tolls. After declining numbers for decades, the fatalities have gone up every year since 2007.
The GHSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) have both sounded the alarm on this deadly trend for several years. Still, the 2021 numbers created a new sense of urgency, with the NHTSA calling it a national emergency with numbers going up in multiple states – Indiana went from 75 deaths in 2019 to 136 in 2021 for an 81% increase.
Why is it more dangerous?
The GHSA provided detailed data on the most common causes: increased speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and other reckless driving habits. The deaths often occurred in the following situations:
- Lack of safe walkways: About two-thirds of pedestrian deaths occur on roads without safe sidewalks or protected safe spaces with barriers for walkers and those in wheelchairs. Also, sidewalk maintenance (which is up to the municipalities to maintain) is often not up to the current safety code.
- Dangerous roads in neighborhoods: An estimated 73% of deaths occurred on “corridors” passing through communities. These roads were designed to enhance traffic flow, often encouraging drivers to speed much faster than the typical 30 MPH speed limits on most streets in neighborhoods.
- Biased transportation system: Reliable public transport is less common in neighborhoods with Blacks, Indigenous and Hispanic walkers. Despite making up 12% percent of the population, these people make up a disproportionate 21% of fatalities.
- SUVs and pick-ups: There has been a huge upswing in the sales of these types of vehicles. Unfortunately, they are harder to maneuver and cause more severe injuries than small cars to walkers.
Who is responsible?
Drivers exhibiting dangerous driving behavior can be held accountable for their recklessness. However, municipalities that do not provide safe spaces for pedestrians, employ modern safety measures, and enforce the rules of the road can also be liable.