More pedestrians are being killed in car crashes than in previous decades, causing researchers to predict the largest increase in pedestrian deaths ever recorded for the past year.
Here is some sobering pedestrian safety data culled from the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA):
- In 2014, almost one-fifth (19 percent) of children 14 and younger killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians.
- Pedestrian fatalities are expected to be 10 percent higher in 2015 than 2014 – the largest jump since federal researchers began keeping records. Since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established in 1975, the year-to-year change in the number of pedestrian fatalities has varied from a 10.5 percent decrease to an 8 percent increase.
- Pedestrian deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths have increased steadily from 11 percent in 2005-2007 to 15 percent in 2014.
- Pedestrians now comprise the largest proportion of traffic fatalities (15 percent) recorded in the past 25 years.
- In the decade from 2003 through 2012, 47,025 pedestrians died in motor vehicle accidents. That’s 16 times the number of Americans who died in natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes—over the last 10 years, based on National Weather Service data.
"We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore we are quite alarmed," said Richard Retting, a co-author of the GHSA pedestrian safety report. "Pedestrian safety is clearly a growing problem across the country.”
Total Traffic Fatalities
Pedestrian Deaths as a Percent of Total Traffic Fatalities
Children and the elderly comprise the majority of pedestrian deaths. However, children ages 5 to 9 (5%) and 10 to 14 years old (5%) had the highest percentages of estimated pedestrians injured among the different age categories in the chart below.
Total killed/injured in car crashes and pedestrians killed/injured, by age group, 2014
Age Group (Years)
Percentage of Total Killed
Children (≤ 14)
Age Group (Years)
Percentage of Total Injured†
Children (≤ 14)
Sources: FARS 2014 ARF and National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES) 2014.
*Fatality totals include 87 total fatalities and 51 pedestrian fatalities of unknown age.
† Percentages of total injured were calculated using total injured and pedestrians injured estimates before rounding.
Note: Injured totals may not equal sum of components due to independent rounding. Latest data available, published May 2016, by National Highway Safety Association.
To understand this troubling trend, let’s see how it is playing out across the country, as well as what is causing it.
Most and least dangerous metro areas for pedestrians
To show the relative safety of pedestrians across the nation, the “Dangerous by Design 2014” report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition uses a “Pedestrian Danger Index” (PDI). Of course, cities where people walk more have more pedestrian deaths, so the index plots the number of pedestrians who die against the number of people who walk.
Here are the most dangerous cities for walkers:
Total pedestrian deaths (2003–
Annual pedestrian deaths per 100,000
Percent of people commuting by foot (2008–2012)
Pedestrian Danger Index (2008–
Tampa-St. Petersburg- Clearwater, FL
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
Riverside-San Bernardino- Ontario, CA
Nashville-Davidson- Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY- IN
San Antonio, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
Kansas City, MO-KS
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
Sacramento-Arden-Arcade- Roseville, CA
Austin-Round Rock, TX
St. Louis, MO-IL
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
Note: Metro areas marked with an asterisk (*) denote a margin of error more than 10 percent for journey-to- work data in the American Community Survey.
Percent change in pedestrian traffic fatalities by state
Traffic fatalities by state 2015 preliminary data
Percent change in pedestrian fatalities: First half of 2014 compared to first half of 2015
|State||Percentage change 2014 to 2015|
|West Virginia||57% increase|
|District of Columbia||40% increase|
|South Carolina||31% increase|
|New York||22% increase|
|New Jersey||4% increase|
|North Carolina||3% decrease|
|New Mexico||32% decrease|
|Rhode Island||67% decrease|
|North Dakota||75% decrease|
|South Dakota||75% decrease|
|New Hampshire||78% decrease|
Reasons why pedestrian fatalities are on the rise
Many factors contribute to changes in the number pedestrian fatalities, including economic conditions,
weather conditions, fuel prices, how roads are constructed, the amount of motor vehicle travel and the amount of time people spend walking, according to the GHSA and transportation researchers and engineers.
The major factors, however, fueling the higher death rate of walkers include:
- Poor street design and community development planning/zoning
- More people are walking
- People are driving more average miles per year
- People walking while using cellphones
- More hybrids are on the roads
Roads designed for cars, not people, are bad for walkers
As you see in the first chart above, the PDI result is bad news for Sun Belt pedestrians. Of the 20 most dangerous places to walk, only one -- Detroit -- is north of the Mason-Dixon Line. “These places grew in the post-war period, mostly through rapid spread of low-density neighborhoods that rely on wider streets with higher speeds to connect homes, shops and schools—roads that tend to be more dangerous for people walking,” says the Design by Safety report.
More people are walking
But aside from poor urban design, there are also more people about on foot, which boosts the chances for pedestrians to be hurt or killed:
- Nearly a million more people reported walking or biking to work in 2013 than in 2005, according to a November 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
- An estimated 4 million Americans reported walking to work in the past week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), in 2013.
- This number has risen 21 percent since 2005, the first year of available data, when an estimated 3.3 million people reported their primary method of commuting to work in the past week was by walking.
Distracted walking is on the rise, too
People walking while using their cellphones is definitely becoming a more common occurrence, which contributes to more pedestrian accidents, injuries and deaths:
- Emergency room visits involving distracted pedestrians using cellphones were up 124 percent in 2014 from 2010, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission data analyzed by the Wall Street Journal.
- The number of pedestrian ER visits for injuries related to cellphones tripled between 2004 and 2010 — even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period, according to a study co-authored by Jack Nasar, professor city and regional planning at The Ohio State University.
- 10 percent of pedestrian injuries are due to using mobile electronic devices, says Dietrich Jehle, a former professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo, who is now an emergency medical doctor in South Carolina.
- Half of pedestrians admit talking on the phone while walking across the street, and a quarter say they text or email while crossing the street, even though most realize it’s dangerous, according to a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
Watch out for that hybrid!
Hybrids are super quiet when running on just electric power, which can be dangerous for pedestrians who can’t hear them approaching, especially in areas such as parking lots.
- A government study examined the crashes of hybrid vehicles and similar non-hybrid vehicles and found that the likelihood of crashing with a pedestrian was 39 percent higher for hybrids than for non-hybrids in areas where speed limits were 35 mph or slower, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety /Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS/HLDI).
- The study also found that the likelihood of crashing with pedestrians to be 66 percent higher for hybrids when turning, stopping and backing up.
- Hybrids may be as much as 20 percent more likely, overall, to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries than their conventional twins, an HLDI analysis indicates.
How communities are reducing pedestrian fatalities
The frequency and severity of motor vehicle-pedestrian crashes can be reduced through a broad range of approaches, including targeted traffic enforcement, engineering countermeasures, public education, and vehicle design changes. The GHSA website has examples of programs underway in all states.
Consumer Analyst Penny Gusner: The role car insurance plays in pedestrian accidents
If you’re hit by a car and injured: If you are hit by a car while walking, you can file a claim against the driver’s auto insurance. The bodily injury liability portion of the driver’s coverage will pay for your medical expenses up to the limit of the policy. Just like a car-to-car accident, you want to try to get the driver's information at the scene of the accident and make a police report.
If you’re hit by a car and injured and have a no-fault auto insurance policy: You must submit the claim to your own car insurance company. The personal injury protection (PIP) portion of your coverage will pay for your expenses.
If you are injured as a pedestrian by a hit-and-run driver: You must submit the claim to your own car insurance company. The uninsured motorist bodily injury portion of your policy will pay for your medical expenses (up to your limits). If you have PIP it also would pay for your injuries, up to your limits.
If the driver's auto insurance isn't enough to compensate you fully: Your underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage should cover you as a pedestrian. If you don’t have this coverage, you can use your own health insurance, as long as it doesn’t exclude injuries resulting from auto accidents. You can also opt to hire an attorney and take the matter to court. You're entitled to be "made whole" following an accident. That may include compensation for medical bills as well as pain and suffering, lost wages from work, emotional distress and property loss.
If you or a family member is hit by a car while walking and dies: If your auto policy includes PIP or medical payments (MedPay), it will cover not only you, but members of your family if struck by a vehicle while walking. If the at-fault driver of the vehicle is known and you do not live in a no-fault state, you can put a claim instead through his bodily injury liability coverage.
If you injure a pedestrian while driving: The bodily injury liability portion of your policy will cover the medical bills of the injured party, up to your limits. The harmed person can also claim lost wages and pain and suffering under your liability coverage. If your limits are exceeded, the person can come after you personally for any remaining compensation he is due.
If you kill a pedestrian while driving: The bodily injury liability portion of your policy will cover medical expenses, or if you are sued for wrongful death. The person’s PIP policy may also be used by the family.
Methodology and sources:
Governors Highway Safety Association: Spotlight on Highway Safety Report/Pedestrian Fatalities by State 2015 Preliminary Data by Richard Retting and Heather Rothenberg, PhD, Sam Schwartz Consulting.
Dangerous by Design 2014/Methodology for Pedestrian Danger Index: The Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) gives an indication of the likelihood of a person on foot being hit by a vehicle and killed. The PDI is based on the share of local commuters who walk to work—the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day—and the most recent five years of data on pedestrian fatalities. PDI is the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of people who walk to work in the region. The PDI is calculated by dividing the average annual fatality rate for a metro area by the percentage of commuters walking to work in that metro area. It is from the “Dangerous by Design” 2014 report, conducted by Smart Growth America and the national Complete Streets Coalition.
Smart Growth America is a national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide.
The National Complete Streets Coalition seeks to fundamentally transform the look, feel and function of the roads and streets in our communities, by changing the way most roads are planned, designed and constructed.