Although the COVID-19 pandemic reduced driving in the United States, pedestrian deaths per mile spiked 20 percent in the first half of 2020.

Pedestrian Deaths Rising Across the Country

Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in pedestrian fatalities across the country. Between 2008 and 2017, pedestrian deaths jumped from 4,414 to 5,977, a 35 percent increase. In 2019, pedestrians accounted for 17 percent of traffic fatalities, and numbers jumped again in 2020, even in the midst of a national pandemic with fewer drivers on the road.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), 2018 started an alarming rise in pedestrian deaths, even though overall traffic deaths fell by 6 percent. A study conducted in all 50 states showed that most deaths were caused by motor vehicle crashes that pinned the pedestrian between objects or the vehicle, or ran over the pedestrian. The main causes of these accidents included speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and disobeying traffic signals. The GHSA study examined several contributing factors in each of the 50 states:

  • Local traffic conditions
  • Local weather conditions
  • Amount of pedestrian traffic
  • Growth in population
  • Changes in demographics
  • Economic conditions

The study also examined the types of vehicles driven when traffic accidents included pedestrian deaths. Vehicles examined included compact vehicles, full-sized sedans, SUVs, and pickup trucks in various sizes. Although the results showed that passenger cars were responsible for the majority of pedestrian deaths, large SUVs were next on the list.

Within all 50 states, five states accounted for half of all pedestrian deaths in 2018. Those states were Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas. The state with the highest number of pedestrian deaths was New Mexico, and the lowest was New Hampshire. The numbers in Illinois showed 60 pedestrian deaths in 2017, and 80 ( a 19 percent jump) in the first half of 2018. This rise is no surprise to Chicago car accident lawyers who see a trend in rising pedestrian deaths.

Pedestrian Fatality Risk Factors

According to the GHSA study, certain conditions increase the likelihood of pedestrian fatalities. Major risk factors include area population; exact location; light conditions (time of day); vehicles driven; and impaired drivers on the road.

Area Population

Populated areas pose increased risks of traffic accidents, as well as pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Chicago car accident lawyers commonly see pedestrians struck by vehicles in city intersections, crosswalks, shopping areas, and busy parking lots. The reason is often distracted drivers in congested areas. Drivers are busy looking at building signs, GPS directions, and vehicle parking spots.

Exact Location

Most pedestrian deaths occur on city streets with local traffic, rather than interstates and highways. Injuries and fatalities caused by vehicles are common in crosswalks, especially those without walk/don’t walk signals. Chicago car accident lawyers see a large number of hit-and-run accidents in crosswalks where the responsible driver does not stop.

Light Conditions

The time of day plays a significant role in pedestrian deaths. Traffic studies show that 75 percent of pedestrian deaths happen after dark. Low light levels and the absence of street lights increase the risks for pedestrian deaths by 50 percent. Pedestrians walking on city streets and rural roads after dark are much more likely to be hit and killed by a car.

Vehicles Driven

Passenger vehicles cause at least 42 percent of pedestrian deaths. In 2017, more than 2,200 pedestrians were killed by passenger cars. There were 1,800 deaths caused by SUVs; 926 caused by pickup trucks; 290 caused by large trucks; and 263 caused by passenger vans. Most crashes were the result of crashes into buildings and objects, parked cars, stop signs, and guardrails where pedestrians were nearby.

Impaired Drivers

Almost half of pedestrian deaths are caused by impaired drivers. Chicago car accident lawyers handle many cases that involve impaired drivers due to alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, and lack of sleep. In some cases, pedestrians and drivers are both intoxicated. In 2017, about 32 percent of pedestrian deaths were caused by drunk driving. The highest number of deaths were among pedestrians between 45 and 54 years of age.

Increasing Pedestrian Safety

The Federal Highway Administration, as well as state and city officials, are working to increase pedestrian safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established traffic enforcement programs and educational programs to address pedestrian safety in cities with large pedestrian populations. Many states have also established pedestrian safety action plans to promote safety.

Auto manufactures are now installing pedestrian detection systems in new cars. Detection systems are linked to automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems that take over when a driver fails to apply the brakes fast enough to slow down the car and prevent an accident. Although these systems increase car prices by about 30 percent, drivers are spending the extra money to increase driving safety.

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