Pedestrian fatalities spike during pandemic

Seven states accounted for more than half of all pedestrian deaths, according to a new analysis


Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts
By Jenni Bergal

Pedestrian fatalities grew in 27 states in the first half of 2020, despite a large drop in traffic volume during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found.

An analysis of federal crash data by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices, estimates that overall, the pedestrian death rate rose 20% during that period, alongside jumps in speeding, distracted and impaired driving.

Pedestrians walk through the downtown shopping district in Winter Park, Florida, in September. Pedestrian fatalities have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pedestrians walk through the downtown shopping district in Winter Park, Florida, in September. Pedestrian fatalities have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Nearly 3,000 pedestrians were killed, even though there was a 16.5% decrease in traffic.

“Walking should not be a life and death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” Jonathan Adkins, the group’s executive director, said in a news release.

Seven states—Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Texas—accounted for 54% of all pedestrian deaths.

The report also examined federal data from 2019 and found that pedestrians accounted for 17% of traffic deaths that year, compared with 13% in 2010. Three out of every four pedestrian fatalities occurred in the dark.

In nearly half the crashes in 2019 that killed a pedestrian, the driver or the pedestrian was impaired by alcohol, the report also found. Nearly 2,000 pedestrians killed that year had blood alcohol levels of 0.08% or higher. The legal limit in almost every state is 0.08%.

Being drunk can affect a person’s judgment and reaction time and result in poor decision-making and risky behavior, such as crossing an intersection against the light or cutting across a road mid-block, safety experts say.

Next: Why US cities are becoming more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians

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