While most discussions about roadway safety are typically focused on vehicles, pedestrians - broadly defined as roadway users on foot - are also an important part of the discussion. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals just how much the risk of death has increased for pedestrians in recent years.
Drivers in the United States struck and killed 3,434 people in the first half of 2022 – up 5%, or 168 more deaths, from the same period the year before, according to GHSA’s analysis. This deeply troubling projection follows a 40-year high in pedestrian deaths in 2021 and continues a gruesome decade-long trend of more people dying in preventable collisions on U.S. roads. GHSA notes that the number doesn’t include data from the state of Oklahoma, meaning that even this dramatic spike in pedestrian deaths is “certainly an undercount.”
Image courtesy of GHSA.
The troubling data in GHSA’s report shows that pedestrian collisions and deaths can happen anywhere, regardless of the size of the city, the volume of traffic, or the type of weather conditions. Pedestrian deaths now account for 17% of all traffic fatalities, and pedestrian deaths between 2019 and 2022 rose at a rate nine times higher than population growth. While Texas, California, and Florida account for a third of the national total, fatalities occurred in every single state that reported data.
Several factors contribute to this problem, which defies easy explanation or categorization. Distracted driving, speeding, and poor visibility often play a major role. When drivers aren’t paying attention to what’s ahead of them, their ability to react quickly to unexpected hazards or sudden changes in traffic conditions is significantly reduced. Notably, roadway workers and first responders outside of their vehicles and in the field, including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), are considered pedestrians and are included in these figures. This demonstrates the dangerous reality that responders and road workers face every day on the road.
These figures should serve as a call to action for the organizations and individuals best positioned to address the issue, including transportation planners, policymakers, automotive companies, and public safety agencies in communities nationwide. While dedicated walkways and protected areas for pedestrians play an important role, these solutions often take significant capital and time to implement. Equitable and accessible safety technologies, including digital alerting, can help to reduce risk more immediately by equipping drivers with advanced warning of upcoming hazards, improved collision prevention capabilities, and speed-limiting functionality. Educational campaigns about move over laws and pedestrian safety and similar public awareness initiatives are also critical components of any comprehensive strategy for roadway safety.
Ultimately, we all play a part in making roads safer. By working together, we can improve safety for pedestrians, drivers, and everyone else that shares our roads.