US pedestrian deaths rose sharply in the first half of 2020

Push button, but watch out for SUVs. Particularly at night.
Enlarge / Push button, but watch out for SUVs. Particularly at night.

American drivers were an even more deadly threat to pedestrians in 2020, according to data analyzed by the Governors Highway Safety Association and published on Tuesday. Early data from state highway safety offices shows that 2,957 pedestrians were killed by drivers in the first six months of last year, which at first looks like a very meager increase over the 2,951 pedestrian fatalities recorded for the first half of 2019. But because the pandemic caused a large decrease in vehicle miles driven, the fatality rate actually increased significantly.

According to the GHSA, there was a 16.5 percent drop in vehicle miles traveled for the first half of 2020. That means the pedestrian fatality rate (normalized to miles traveled) actually increased by 20 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

US roads have become a lot more dangerous to pedestrians over the past few years. In 2009, 4,302 pedestrians were killed by drivers, accounting for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities. In 2018, the pedestrian death toll was 6,374, which accounted for 17 percent of all road deaths. 2019 actually offered a rare bit of good news, as pedestrian deaths were essentially flat compared to 2018, but that still represents a 46 percent increase in deaths over 10 years.

However, the carnage is not evenly distributed: 20 states and the District of Columbia actually saw a decline in pedestrian deaths for the first half of last year. Another three states saw no change, but drivers killed more pedestrians in the remaining 27 states over the time period in question.

Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, and Texas accounted for just over half (54 percent) of all pedestrian deaths. The GHSA report notes that while these are all rather populous states, they still only account for 42 percent of the US population.

This isn’t the first report of the pandemic resulting in more dangerous roads; as we reported a couple of weeks ago, 8 percent more Americans were killed in traffic crashes in 2020 than 2019, despite a 13 percent drop in vehicle miles traveled.

The GSHA is careful to note that many factors are likely to be driving this increase in pedestrian deaths, but it does note that from 2010 to 2019, “the number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased at a faster rate compared to passenger cars,” by 69 percent (for SUVs) compared to 46 percent (for passenger cars) and that nighttime fatalities increased at more than 54 percent over that period, compared to a 16 percent increase in daytime pedestrian deaths.

Be careful out there, people.