Injury Prevention

Pedestrian Fatalities Spike During Pandemic

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay 

By Jenni Bergal

An estimated 7,485 pedestrians in the United States were struck and killed by drivers in 2021—the largest number in four decades, a new report has found.

The analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices, found that pedestrian deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic had spiked significantly, as speeding and impaired and distracted driving proliferated.

The report estimates that 37 states and the District of Columbia had increases in 2021, while only 10 had fewer pedestrian deaths than the previous year.

“This is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” Jonathan Adkins, the association’s executive director, said in a news release. “The pandemic has caused so much death and damage, it’s frustrating to see even more lives needlessly taken due to dangerous driving.”

The analysis, based on preliminary data reported by state highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, also examined the changes in pedestrian deaths between 2019, prior to the pandemic, and 2021. The states with the biggest percentage increases during that three-year period were Vermont, Kansas, Alaska and North Dakota, respectively. 

Traffic crash deaths overall have shot up nationwide.

This week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new estimates projecting that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 10.5% increase over 2020. It is the highest number of fatalities since 2005.

“We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a news release.

The governors highway safety group’s report found that the percentage of speeding-related pedestrian crashes involving children ages 15 and younger doubled from 2018 to 2020, from about 6% to nearly 12%, according to federal crash data. This occurred even though millions of children began remote learning in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

Overall, most pedestrian fatalities occur at night, when lighting conditions are poorer than during the day, the safety group found. Many take place on interstates or other roads not designed for foot traffic.

Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.