An average of 20 pedestrians were killed by motorists every 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 throughout the year. For those who follow such statistics closely, last year was the deadliest year for pedestrians in the past four decades. You have to go back to 1982 to find a year with more pedestrian fatalities than 2021. That number is up 12 percent from last year, and represents 774 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020.

Statistics buffs will also notice that the ratio of pedestrian fatalities to miles traveled has also increased. Preliminary figures from GHSA suggest that for every billion miles driven in 2021, 2.32 pedestrians will die. That’s up slightly from last year — although last year’s numbers were unusual due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic — and “well above the pandemic average of 1.9.” The death rate per 100,000 people also rose in 2021, rising to 2.26 from 2.02 the year before.

Worryingly, the report includes data analyzed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that “the percentage of speeding-related pedestrian crashes involving children 15 and younger has more than doubled in the past three years. .” The report further found that, “Considering their share of the population, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are disproportionately represented in pedestrian crashes.”

Speeding is cited as a major contributor to the rise in pedestrian fatalities, along with distracted driving and driver or pedestrian injuries. According to the GHSA, “The faster the vehicle travels, the average pedestrian risk of death increases exponentially, from 10 percent at 23 mph to 90 percent at 58 mph.”

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety identified a worrying trend that suggested pickup trucks and SUVs were more likely to kill pedestrians than small cars. The GHSA report includes statistics compiled over the past decade that show “a 36 percent increase in fatalities from SUVs over the same period, while a 27 percent increase in fatalities from passenger vehicles”. We all know that sales of light trucks (including trucks, SUVs, and vans) have grown significantly, while sales of small cars have fallen sharply. However, these statistics exclude sales numbers and calculate accident rates rather than raw numbers. The GHSA report lists the heavier weight and reduced visibility of large and tall vehicles as a factor in pedestrian fatalities.

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

The full report can be found here (PDF link) and is full of statistics we should all know, whether we drive, walk or cycle. The GHSA report also includes solutions to rising pedestrian fatalities that are known to be effective. “The safe systems approach provides a clear path forward to help stem the tide of pedestrian fatalities,” GHSA said. It’s all worth the time to read.

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