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Governors Highway Safety Association Projects Pedestrian Deaths at 40-Year High

woman crossing empty streetU.S. roads were much deadlier for pedestrians in 2021, as pedestrian deaths hit a 40-year high. Last year, a total of 7,485 pedestrians were killed, an 11.5 percent increase compared to 2020, according to projections by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Pedestrian deaths also increased in Pennsylvania last year compared to 2020. There was a 24.4 percent increase in pedestrian deaths as 186 pedestrians were killed last year.

Drivers are killing people who should not be getting killed, according to Pam Schadel Fisher, senior director of engagement at the GHSA.

Most of the deaths were caused by speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, distracted driving and other risky behaviors that caused an increase in deaths during the pandemic. Unfortunately, drivers have not cut back on their risky behavior, even as the roads have filled up with more traffic.

The increase in pedestrian deaths between 2020 and 2021 continues a trend, as pedestrian deaths increased by 54 percent from 2010 to 2020. This includes an increase in pedestrian deaths each year. Other types of traffic deaths only increased by 13 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Motor vehicle crashes are particularly dangerous for pedestrians. The severity of injuries increases dramatically every five miles per hour a vehicle is traveling.

Pedestrians are more at risk for getting into a fatal crash at night. Many of the deaths happen at night in dark areas – 76 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred in these areas in 2020. Between 2010 and 2020, pedestrian deaths at night in dark areas increased from 3,030 to 4,981.

Pedestrians are also at greater risk in areas with no sidewalks, as far more pedestrians are killed in these areas than areas with sidewalks.

Reducing pedestrian deaths and other motor vehicle crash deaths may require an approach like the one used by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, according to Fischer. She is encouraged by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talking about a “safe system” that would include:

  • More enforcement
  • Better road design
  • Better education
  • Improved emergency response

These are strategies that have worked in Europe and Australia, according to Fischer. However, the public needs to buy-in to this approach.

“If ever there is a wake-up call in this country, this should be it,” said Fischer.

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