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Why Are Pedestrian Deaths on the Rise?

pedestrian death

A dangerous trend is occurring on American roadways, one that’s putting those on foot directly in harm’s way: Pedestrian deaths are increasing at an unprecedented rate. And it’s nothing new – these tragedies have been on the uptick for years.

While so much focus remains on making drivers safer, why – and how – are we failing pedestrians?

Recent Pedestrian Deaths

An estimated 7,508 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2022 in the United States, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The GHSA suggests the uptick in pedestrian deaths is likely the result of unsafe driving habits, such as excessive speeding, drunk and drugged driving and general distraction. The organization also points the finger at infrastructure it says is more conducive and safer for drivers instead of pedestrians.

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Pedestrian Fatalities in the Northeast

Closer to home, projected pedestrian death totals in the Northeast were a mixed bag. The breakdown by state with the percentage of change from 2021 to 2022 includes:

Connecticut: 62 deaths, +10.7% increase

Massachusetts: 100; +31.6% increase

Maine: 21; +5.0%

New Hampshire: 16; +77.8%

New Jersey: 190; -12.4%

New York: 298; -2.0%

Rhode Island: 7; +/-0%

Vermont: 7; -12.5%

pedestrian deaths

Pedestrian Deaths Per Year

2022’s pedestrian death totals are the latest results in a disturbing ongoing trend. From 2010-2021, U.S. pedestrian fatalities increased from 4,302 to an estimated 7,624, a whopping 77% jump. Over the same time period, all other traffic-related deaths grew by 25%, while total traffic fatalities increased by 31%.

A closer look at pedestrian deaths per year:

Why Are Pedestrian Deaths On the Rise?

There are a number of likely culprits responsible for the rise in pedestrian deaths, but experts most often point to one more than any other: the increase in SUVs on the road. The numbers support this theory. Although passenger cars remain most likely to be involved in fatal pedestrian crashes, the number of deaths involving SUVs grew 120% from 2012-2021, compared to 26% for cars. (Their popularity continues to rise, with light trucks including SUVs making up 78% of total light vehicle sales in 2021.)

The issue with SUVs is twofold. The large body and elevated carriage of SUVs create more significant blind spots for motorists, making it easier for pedestrians – particularly children – to go unseen. An Indiana news station demonstrated this in an experiment that proved seven children could fit in a line stretching out from the front bumper of an SUV without the driver seeing any of them.

The vehicle’s design is also responsible for the increased likelihood a pedestrian will die after being struck by one. The higher bumpers and front ends of larger vehicles means pedestrian victims often get struck in the torso or head, damaging vital organs. Sedans, on the other hand, most commonly strike pedestrians in their lower extremities. Furthermore, when a victim gets hit by a car, they are more likely to be pushed onto the hood or roof of the car, or off to the side. A pedestrian hit by a SUV will usually be knocked forward and possibly run over.

pedestrian deaths

How to Stay Safe

Safety is always the top priority on the road, and following basic safety procedures will go a long way. These tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will help keep both pedestrians and motorists safe.

Pedestrians

  • Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals.
  • Walk on sidewalks whenever available.
  • If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
  • Keep alert at all times; don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road.
  • Whenever possible, cross streets at crosswalks or intersections, where drivers expect pedestrians. Look for cars in all directions, including those turning left or right.
  • If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic. Wait for a gap in traffic that allows enough time to cross safely; continue watching for traffic as you cross.
  • Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach to make sure you are seen.
  • Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flashlight at night.
  • Watch for cars entering or exiting driveways, or backing up in parking lots.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs when walking; they impair your abilities and your judgment.

Motorists

  • Look out for pedestrians everywhere, at all times. Safety is a shared responsibility.
  • Use extra caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions, such as nighttime or bad weather.
  • Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and stop well back from the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they can stop too.
  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be people crossing that you can’t see.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Follow the speed limit, especially around people on the street.
  • Follow slower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where children are present.
  • Be extra cautious when backing up – pedestrians can move into your path.

For more safety advice, and to learn about free community programs, visit AAA.com.

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57 Thoughts on “Why Are Pedestrian Deaths on the Rise?

  1. As always, like everywhere else, always most of you put all the blame and responsibility on the drivers. While I agree that there are many bad, reckless drivers, out there, we need a two sided approach to work on this problem. Cops target and ticket bad drivers. No one does anything about pedestrians. Every single approach toward pedestrian saftey is a one sided approach. The drivers, the drivers, the drivers. What about the pedestrians. I am here in NYC and the hypocritical approach of vision zero is very troubling. The pedestrians in NYC very seldom wait for the green light, almost everyone Jay-walks. The attitude here is ” I have the right of way”. They don’t even look when they cross the street. Pedestrians walk while texting, talking on phone, watching videos, gaming, wearing head phones, and yet all of you ignore or, at the very least, minimize these contributing factors. Look at your own report, one line about using electronic devices. So long as those pedestrians continue to walk with their heads up their butts, their deaths will continue to rise. The right of way works when drivers see, you ,when they aren’t distracted, and when there is no mechanical failure.

    1. I totally agree with this person. Every day I observe people entering crosswalks without a clue of traffic. They’re on their cell phones or talking with a friend and enter a crosswalk when a vehicle is right on top of them. These people believe a operator will slam on their brakes to stop not realizing the operator might not have seen them. If these pedestrians are too stupid to use caution when entering a cross walk well then they will suffer the consequences.

  2. All good comments and yes there are many oblivious pedestrians out there. But the most important rule in driving is to do whatever you reasonably can to avoid an accident regardless of whether somebody else is not following the rules or is a totally oblivious pedestrian with his headphones on full blast. You just have to pay attention at all times, watch your speed and keep your eyes on the road. You have to assume that at least 50% of the drivers you may come across are either not fully paying attention or shouldn’t be driving.

  3. SOME… pedestrians are stupid.

    In the 1960’s….it was said “look before you cross”. We never crossed a road if a car was coming. These new rules about stopping for crosswalks are encouraging people to just “WALK” in-front of cars!! Plus my vehicle does have blindspots where the rear-view mirror is!

  4. I realize this is going to echo some of what has been said, but it needs to be stressed: I think a large part of the increase is due to the behavior of the pedestrians themselves. I work in the greater Bridgeport, Connecticut area, and I seldom see a pedestrian paying attention to walk signals or traffic lights. If drivers must follow traffic signals, so should pedestrians. And, the fact that pedestrians have the right-of-way should not entitle them to step out in front of moving traffic, often without looking at all.

  5. The reason that the number of pedestrians getting injured has increased is the pedestrians not using caution when crossing the street at places other than those designated for pedestrians or when the light is green for them to cross. I live in a very congested urban town and pedestrians dart out in the middle of the road without even glancing at the oncoming traffic. When the law passed that said pedestrians always have the right of way, it was totally misunderstood by some if not most that they can cross anywhere they happen to be. When I was young and before this stupid law passed, we knew to cross the street when the light was green. Period. Now, it’s a challenge for drivers to anticipate and react to anyone crossing anywhere in the middle of the road regardless of whether it’s a crosswalk or not. Unless this changes, the number of pedestrians getting injured will increase even more.

  6. As someone who drives a Honda Accord for the last 5 years and Honda Civics for decades before that I can tell you that in my experience many pedestrians are responsible for their own injuries. I witness every single time I am on the local roads or in parking lots that pedestrians have lost their sense of reality. They don’t look up from their phones. They just walk as if nothing else is around them. They just step off the curb and start walking and just assume that all traffic will come to a halt for them. I have had people walk behind me in parking lots while my car is backing up when I cannot possible see them until the last possible second. People walk around with their ears covered and cannot hear anything going on around them, including the sound of approaching automobiles or honking. This crazy behavior is not reserved to the younger generation. Plenty of older adults who should know better indulge in this reckless behavior as well. I agree that SUV height and excessive speed and alcohol and drugs also play a role. But there would be substantially less injuries if people would pay attention to where they are and take precautions to safeguard themselves. Don’t expect the driver to see you. There is so much going on on the road these days. Drivers’ attention can be diverted by so many things. Play it safe and look both ways before you step off the curb; get out of the way of a moving vehicle; stop, let the car pass and then walk. Don’t wear anything over your ears to prevent you from hearing traffic. Use common sense.

  7. I live in North Adams, MA and periodically go over to Williamstown, a college town (Williams College), where the pedestrians are mostly ivy-league scholars who demonstrate the most idiotic street crossing habits in the world. The main street that runs through the town and its campus is Route 2, a major highway. I’ve seen some of these scholars step out onto that highway without even looking to see if any vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) are coming or even right on top of them. Some years ago, Williamstown set up some kiosks that were supposed to alert drivers if pedestrians were in the crosswalks, as if drivers couldn’t tell that just by looking at the crosswalk—as opposed to looking at something that’s on the sidewalk. One has to wonder why they never thought to address the students and drill road safety into them?

    But that’s just one town. As the article suggests, the real problem is that we have become accustomed to living in our own little worlds. You get in your car with a hot coffee in the cupholder, a song on the radio and your cell phone on the dash and you’re safe; you’re set in an extension of your house. You go out for a walk, you’ve got your cell phone spewing out tunes or you’re talking with somebody. Same thing. We’re all in our own little worlds and we all have the right of way. We have pedestrians walking in the street, as if there’s something wrong with the sidewalks. We have people in electric wheelchairs also riding in the street, instead of on the sidewalks, where they belong. And we have bicyclists riding on the sidewalks instead of in the streets, where THEY belong.

    We seriously need to get our collective heads out of our backsides and start paying attention to what we are doing. Turn off the cell phones, pay attention and stop thinking that we have the right of way in all circumstances.

  8. So this study tabulated by vehicle type. As a licensed traffic engineer, conducting such a study needs more cross-tabulations; for example, how many crashes happened, by state, with drivers AND pedestrians under the influence of marijuana vs driver age — let’s start that example in Colorado, Illinois, NY, Washington, Oregon, et. al. My educated guess would be the influence of marijuana use is increasing vehicle/pedestrian crashes…how often do you smell the unmistakable scent of that ever-increasing strengthening pot? Then ask yourself: is that a passing motorist? Is that someone staggering across the street?

  9. One thing that I did not see mentioned is the extreme brightness of headlights. I believe this includes my own SUV. On a typical two-way neighborhood street you are “blinded by the light” coming at you at night …this is perilous for pedestrians.

  10. All I can say is that in my small town of Fairfield, CT, just today I saw a couple at an intersection and the BIG RED HAND was on the crossing signal, but they decided to cross against the signal anyways. Also had another recent event where someone was crossing the Post Road (very busy road if you don’t know about it) and just marched into traffic and I almost hit her. While I’m sure aggressive drivers are an issue, so are pedestrians that don’t understand the rules.

  11. There are, to be sure, many factors, but irresponsible walking is certainly contributing to the problem. People do not walk facing traffic, which I knew was a safety factor when I started running back in the ‘80s; people walk in the middle of the road, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups of four or more; people walk 3-5 dogs at a time and often let the dogs wander into the middle of the road; and all the ignoring crosswalk stuff has already been mentioned.

    Part of this lackadaisical attitude toward walking can, I believe, be attributed to the covid shutdown when there weren’t many cars on the road and people just walked however and wherever they wanted

    But I also feel people are driving faster and more recklessly than ever before and rarely do I see these drivers given a ticket or issued a warning.

    Not too long ago I ventured slowly into a crosswalk and turning to my left noticed a car going perhaps 40-45 in a 25 zone. I stopped and as she sped by noticed that she was looking at her cellphone, not the road ahead. And this happened only a short distance from the downtown center.

    Making matters even worse there was a police car headed in the opposite direction. The officer should have noticed one of the driver’s three violations, but if he or she did decided not to do anything about it.

  12. I can’t tell you how many people walk in front of me at a cross walk either without looking or expecting me to stop at a moments notice!!
    Pedestrians need to remember what my parents told me. Don’t assume someone will stop and look both ways before walking.

  13. This is an important article. . .but, one thing I’d like to point out is how we as a society have failed the younger pedestrians, starting with the family and continuing on through their time in the schools systems of the Commonwealth. We have traffic monitors/guards/custodians on traffic duty at every school crossing with their ‘STOP’ signs enabling them to control the traffic in their particular spot. But, they DO NOT instruct the children on how to cross the street or road when they’re not there outside of school hours. The kids are so use to these ‘Crossing Guards’ controlling the vehicle traffic that in their mind they can just step out into traffic and the world will ‘STOP’ for them. Parents fail their children by not teaching them basic ‘street smarts’ when it comes to dealing with vehicle traffic as pedestrians. School systems fail the children by not teaching or reinforcing the proper way to cross the street or road when no adult is present. Drivers have great responsibility to drive with care but, pedestrians, both young and old share the responsibility for their own safety as they navigate crossing the roadways no matter where they are. Parking lots are another issue but, the same safety awareness is necessary for safe navigation of these areas as well. By the time I was in the kindergarten class my parents had taught me to be ‘street smart,’ this was their responsibility and they took it to heart. I had three older brothers and sisters and we all knew how to cross in traffic and we had no school crossing guards to “hold our hands.” At 87 years of age I’m here to thank my parents for teaching me how to coexist with the traffic then and on today’s roadways.

    1. John is totally correct. Lets not forget Pedestrians have an obligation too., not crossing in the middle of the block to get to the other side of the street. Not crossing between parked cars. Go up to the corner and cross between the walk lines. And if theres a pedestrian light that says red not to cross, do not criss! Ive seen family’s cross their children on A red pedestrian light that clearly tells them not to cross. They do it anyway. Ive seen people cross their kids in traffic while Cars are rolling. Cannot believe people are that impatient. Cars need to be slower in trafficmost especially whete pedestrians snd kids are crossing. We use to have older kids as safety patrol monitors and police crossing guards that is rearely seen any more. Bring back crossing guards!

  14. Considering how many people can’t seem to put down their cellphone while walking and driving it’s not surprising that accidents and deaths are rising. Another disturbing trend that I’m noticing in NYC is the increasing number of vehicles with window tint so dark that it’s impossible to see the driver even through the front windshield. How is a pedestrian supposed to know if their presence is acknowledged by a motorist if they can’t even see the driver? This bad for other motorists as well.

  15. I agree with Melanie. Pedestrians are at fault as much as drivers. They cross in moving traffic without even looking and many times using their sell phones. “j” walking is a thing of the past and drivers are at their mercy. Even at areas with walking lights, I have watched pedestrians activate the crossing signal and then make a run for it before the traffic and crossing lights. Then drivers must wait with no pedestrians crossing. It is time to start pedestrian fines for their dangerous crossings. Perhaps that would raise their awareness and save injuries and worse yet lives.

  16. I was taught to look both ways and when it is clear you walk. Not today, yes pedestrians have the right of way but that does not mean walk out in front of a moving vehicle. Most time on their phones and just take their sweet time walking while you are obviously waiting for them. And that includes adults as well as children. Alot of times it is dark and you can’t see them.

  17. another factor is that pedestrians are wearing black or very dark clothing at night. this makes them extremely difficult to see.

    1. Agreed. If I’m out and about at night, I carry a flashlight to mark my path and make drivers aware of my location. We also have that electric scooter rental thing (Bird) in my town, at least they have front and rear light, but there are plenty of bicycles and other scooter riders riding around at night without any lighting, and don’t get me started about bikes and scooters just blowing through stop signs.

  18. In Boston, a college town, there are traffic lights on Commonwealth Ave and other main thoroughfares in the city where a Green Light is showing and the Cross Walk on the right turn has the Pedestrian White Walk Signal at the same time. A driver may just register out of habit to continue moving or not aware of it if from out of town. I drive on Commonwealth Ave when in Boston. Strange traffic light software programming in my opinion.

  19. Six or seven years ago I submitted a dissertation regarding left turn accidents and the A-Pillar. The bigger the SUV the bigger the A-Pillar which can block two or three people in a crosswalk. The A-Piller is only one variable which causes left turn accident. You would think that as the vehicle moves the driver would no longer be blocked by the A-Piller. So, why are people being hit in crosswalks on left turns. After thinking about this issue I determined there was another very important variable to be considered that was not obvious. The second variable is the key to left turn accident. Where are the driver’s eyes directed to when turning? When you turn your eyes develop a form of tunnel vision and throughout the turn the driver NEVER moves his/her eyes from looking over the front of the car. This is like being in a trance like state. when the turn is completed the driver again gains a normal viewing capacity but too late if there was a person or persons in the A-Piller blind spot when the turn began. Result is injury or death to a pedestrian who had the right of way. The simple way to avoid this problem is to break the trance. To have the driver scan during the turn. Buses in NY after hitting pedestrians now announce loudly that a bus is turning. The turning announcement is basically for the pedestrian but it also performs another function. It breaks the drivers trance. Much more to this interesting phenomenon. Tried to patent a device to save live and break the trance on turns. Turns out car companies have an infinite number of patents for devices they will never use. One company had a device which in fact was unlike mine but the examiner decided the two devices were similar and denied my patent. If approved my device would have save thousands of lives and prevented untold injuries.

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