Pedestrian deaths soared in 2021 thanks to dangerous pandemic driving

Pedestrian deaths soared in 2021 thanks to dangerous pandemic driving

Pedestrian deaths soared in 2021 thanks to dangerous pandemic driving
Ocean Avenue Association executive director Pierre Smit, right, and Lick-Wilmerding High School sophomores hold up signs for oncoming traffic at a Slow Down on Ocean Ave event in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/AP
Pedestrian deaths soared in the first half of 2021, a new report shows, as dangerous driving increased during the pandemic .
A total of 3,441 pedestrians were struck and killed in the first half of 2021, according to preliminary figures from the Governors Highway Safety Association, 507 more, or 17%, than during the same period in 2020. The increase was not a one-time effect due to the slowdown in driving during the pandemic shutdowns in early 2021: Deaths were also up 17% over 2019 levels.
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The increase in pedestrian deaths appears to be a function of weaker traffic enforcement and more reckless driving during the pandemic rather than just more people returning to the roads. The report showed that the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians rose to 2.3 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled, an increase from the historically high rate of 2.2 deaths per billion VMT in 2020. The 2021 total is also significantly higher than the steady rate of 1.8 to 1.9 deaths per billion VMT from 2017 to 2019.
“Walking is the most basic form of transportation, but there is a pedestrian safety crisis due to drivers speeding, being impaired or distracted, or engaging in other dangerous behaviors,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins.
State Highway Safety Offices, GHSA data analysis, and FHWA
All but 11 states recorded increases in pedestrian deaths during the first half of 2021, with 3,441 people killed while walking near roadways. The states with the greatest percent increases in pedestrian death counts were Maine, Vermont, Wyoming, South Carolina, and Massachusetts, alongside Washington, D.C.
The report also offered some good news. Hawaii, Nebraska, and Virginia had two consecutive years of declines in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of the year, while Connecticut and North Carolina saw declines in the double digits in 2021.
Given the variation in population size among the states, individual states differ widely in fatality numbers. For instance, in Florida, preliminary totals in 2021 show 444 vehicle-pedestrian collisions, up from 339 in 2020 and 285 in 2019 (before the lockdowns altered normal traffic patterns). The percent increase from 2020 to 2021 was about 31%. Meanwhile, in Maine, pedestrian fatalities in 2021 reached nine, compared to three in 2020, translating to a 200% increase.
A small change in fatalities can cause a big change in percentage.
“This projection is made while also recognizing the chaotic impact that changing travel patterns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had on state traffic safety statistics,” the report said.
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The report noted that California, Florida, and Texas, which together are home to 27% of the U.S. population, accounted for 37% of pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2021. The GHSA posited that warmer climates contribute to more people traveling on foot, as do urban areas where people and cars are most likely to share the road.
“We need to leverage everything that works — infrastructure improvements, changes to road design, equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws and community outreach — to reverse this deadly trend and make our roadways safe for people walking, biking and rolling,” Adkins said.
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