Advocacy efforts to protect pedestrians are more important than ever before. The number of people who choose to walk, rather than travel by car, has steadily increased over the past few years. Unfortunately, the number of fatal pedestrian accidents has also risen. Cities and states across the country must embrace safety initiatives to keep pedestrians safe. Educational programs and changes to existing infrastructure will help to reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities reported in the United States. At People Powered Movement, our goal is to provide information for education and advocacy to help those seeking to improve biking and walking in their city.

Fatal Pedestrian Accident Statistics

American streets are becoming increasingly dangerous for pedestrians. Over the past decade, the number of fatal pedestrian accidents has increased by more than 27 percent. During this same time, the total number of traffic accident deaths only increased by about 6 percent. Pedestrians now account for the highest percentage of traffic accident deaths in the country.

Annual fatal pedestrian accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • 2007: 4,699
  • 2008: 4.414
  • 2009: 4,109
  • 2010: 4,302
  • 2011: 4,457
  • 2012: 4,818
  • 2013: 4,735
  • 2014: 4,884
  • 2015: 5,376
  • 2016: 5,997
  • 2017: 5,984.

Where Do Most Fatal Pedestrian Accidents Happen?

Some states have roads that are more dangerous for pedestrians than others. In fact, just four states (California, Florida, Texas, and New York) were responsible for 42 percent of all pedestrian fatalities recorded in 2016. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the number of pedestrian deaths increased by an average of 7 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Deadliest States for Pedestrians

States reporting the highest rate of pedestrian deaths include:

  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • South Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • Washington, D.C., and
  • California.

Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

According to the GHSA, the following cities report the highest number of fatal pedestrian accidents each year:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego
  • Dallas, and
  • San Jose.

When Do Most Pedestrian Accidents Happen?

Statistics show that most pedestrian accidents occur after dark. In fact, nearly three-quarters of all fatal pedestrian accidents happen when it is dark outside. Approximately 23 percent of accidents occur during the daylight hours, and 4 percent happen during dusk or dawn.

Why do most accidents happen at night? Visibility. Pedestrians are simply harder to see when it is dark out. Since most pedestrians do not wear reflective materials, visibility can be extremely limited.

Distracted Walking and Pedestrian Accidents

Interestingly, the rate at which pedestrians were being killed in accidents remained fairly consistent until 2015. In fact, the number of pedestrian deaths has increased significantly in just the past few years. Between 2015 and 2016, pedestrian deaths increased by 11 percent. Why are more pedestrians being killed in traffic accidents on American streets? The answer may have something to do with the rising popularity of cell phones and mobile devices.

While more people are choosing to walk, many aren’t paying attention when sharing or crossing the road. Instead, pedestrians’ eyes are aimed down and focused on the cell phone in their hands. Many walkers are also wearing headphones or earbuds, which prevents them from hearing important sounds and alerts from nearby travelers. Distracted walkers are more likely to veer into oncoming traffic, cross the street at a location other than a crosswalk, and enter intersections against the light.

Making Roads Safer for American Pedestrians

How can cities and states across the country make roads and streets safer for pedestrians? There are three primary ways to combat the rising number of pedestrian deaths: laws, education, and changes to infrastructure.

Legal Changes

Simple changes to local traffic laws can help to protect pedestrians. Many cities across the country have started to consider and embrace laws that combat distracted walking. In Montclair, California, for example, pedestrians now face a $100 fine if they text or wear headphones while crossing the street. Honolulu also recently banned distracted walking practices. Pedestrians in the Hawaiian city can be fined between $15 and $99 for crossing the street while focusing on their cell phone.

Richard Morse, a founding partner of the law firm Injury Trial Lawyers, APC, in San Diego, CA, firmly believes that changes in local traffic laws can help to cut down on the damage caused by traffic accidents. “Laws that prohibit or require some behavior have proven to be effective in reducing injuries and deaths in traffic accidents,” he explains. “Seat belt laws, for example, have saved tens of thousands of lives. These laws directly addressed an issue that was problematic: passengers not wearing seat belts and looking out for their own safety. Addressing behaviors that put pedestrians in harm’s way will also help to reduce fatal accidents.”

Education Efforts

Education is crucial for limiting the number of pedestrian accidents in the United States. Cities can effect change not only by passing safety laws, but by making information about pedestrian safety available to its citizens. Advocacy efforts should emphasize that when pedestrians and drivers understand how to stay safe, the number of accidents involving pedestrians will decline.

Education can include:

  • Statistics on when, where, and why accidents involving pedestrians happen
  • Information about laws pertaining to pedestrians
  • Pedestrian safety tips, and
  • Driver safety tips.

Infrastructure Initiatives

Even if drivers and pedestrians are careful, accidents can still happen if a city’s roads are not pedestrian-friendly. Designing and constructing safe infrastructure can help to combat the rising number of deadly pedestrian accidents.

Safety features that can help to protect pedestrians include:

  • Dedicated pedestrian sidewalks
  • Clearly marked crosswalks
  • Pedestrian bridges and tunnels
  • Safety barricades and bumpers
  • Increased lighting
  • Illuminated signage, and
  • Road-calming measures.

You can help to protect pedestrians in your city by speaking with your local lawmakers and town officials. Concerted advocacy efforts can help to initiate real change. Until these changes are made, pedestrians will continue to be at risk of injury and harm in America.

For more information, see our benchmarking report or contact us.