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More pedestrians are being killed in car crashes than in previous decades, and the most recent highway safety data shows the trend is likely to continue, with pedestrian deaths increasing sharply as overall traffic fatalities decline. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) predicts that 6,590 pedestrian fatalities occurred in 2019, the highest number in more than 30 years.

Here is some sobering pedestrian safety data culled from the (GHSA):

  • During the 10-year period 2009-2018 the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 53%, while the number of all other traffic deaths increased by 2%.
  • GHSA projects that 6,590 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2019, representing a 5% increase from 2018 and the largest annual number of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. in over 30 years (since 1988).
  • Pedestrian deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 12% in 2009 to 17% in 2018. Pedestrians now account for the largest proportion of traffic fatalities in 36 years (since 1982).
  • The number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 population increased steadily from a rate of 1.3 in 2009 to an estimated rate of 2.0 in 2019 — a 54% increase.
  • Increases in pedestrian fatalities are occurring largely at night. From 2009 to 2018, the number of nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased by 67%, compared to a 16% increase in daytime pedestrian fatalities.
  • In 2017, nearly one-fifth (19%) of children 14 and younger killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians, according to the latest data from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA).

“In the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian fatalities on our nation’s roadways has increased by more than 50%,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “This alarming trend signifies that we need to consider all the factors involved in this rise, identify the high-risk areas, allocate resources where they’re needed most, and continue to work with local law enforcement partners to address the chronic driver violations that contribute to pedestrian crashes.”

Pedestrian Deaths as a Percentage of Traffic Fatalities
Year Pedestrian Fatalities All Other Traffic Fatalities Combined Total Traffic Fatalities Pedestrian Deaths as a Percentage of Total Traffic Fatalities
20094,10929,77433,88312%
20104,30228,69732,99913%
20114,45728,02232,47914%
20124,81828,96433,78214%
20134,77928,11432,89315%
20144,91027,83432,74415%
20155,49429,99035,48415%
20166,08031,72637,80616%
20176,07531,39837,47316%
20186,28330,27736,56017%
% Change from 2009 to 201853%2%8% 

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)

Smart Growth America, a non-profit group that advocates for community-based planning, each year releases a report on pedestrian safety, “Dangerous by Design,” and  summed up its research this way. “Between 2008 and 2017, drivers struck and killed 49,340 people who were walking on streets all across the United States. That’s more than 13 people per day, or one person every hour and 46 minutes. It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing—with no survivors—every single month,” according to the 2019 report.

To understand more about this troubling trend, let’s see how it’s playing out across the country, as well as what’s causing it.

Pedestrian deaths by state

Based on the preliminary data, 30 states had increases in pedestrian fatalities, and 20 states plus Washington, D.C., had decreases. You’ll see in the table below that New Hampshire, Wyoming and Maine had the largest percentage increase, though their number of deaths is relatively low compared to the rest of the nation. New Hampshire reported only one fatality in the first six months of 2018, but jumped to four for the year-over-year comparison, resulting in a 333% increase.

Pedestrian Fatalities by State
State Jan-June 2018 Jan-June 2019 (Preliminary Adjusted) Change from 2018 to 2019 - # Change from 2018 to 2019 - %
New Hampshire143300%
Wyoming374144%
Maine374133%
West Virginia612695%
North Dakota35267%
Minnesota1419538%
Oklahoma2533834%
Montana68233%
Nevada32421031%
Arkansas2329625%
Alabama41511025%
Oregon3340722%
Tennessee53641121%
Connecticut2327419%
Hawaii2125419%
South Carolina7483912%
California4645195512%
North Carolina1001121212%
Washington4247511%
Virginia5257510%
New Jersey727979%
New Mexico434749%
Iowa91018%
Utah131418%
New York11212087%
Delaware101116%
Missouri454725%
Texas297313165%
Michigan596235%
Florida35936893%
Maryland5756-1-2%
Kentucky3734-3-9%
Arizona123111-12-10%
Ohio6760-7-10%
Colorado3531-4-10%
Georgia137116-21-16%
Louisiana7664-12-16%
Massachusetts3832-6-16%
Alaska65-1-17%
Pennsylvania8974-15-17%
District of Columbia76-1-18%
Illinois7561-14-18%
Indiana4436-8-19%
Rhode Island43-1-22%
Mississippi4230-12-29%
Wisconsin2013-7-36%
South Dakota53-2-40%
Nebraska127-5-42%
Idaho63-3-42%
Vermont21-1-44%
U.S. Total2,9343,015813%

Source: State Highway Safety Offices

When looking just at the number of deaths, California had more than any other state, with 432 pedestrian fatalities. Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas accounted for almost half of all deaths, or 46%.

New Mexico had the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident population, which you’ll see in the next section.

Pedestrian death rate by state

When looking at who many pedestrians died per 100,000 people living in the state, New Mexico, Hawaii and Florida rank highest.

Pedestrian Fatalities Rate by State Per 100,000 Population
State Pedestrian Fatalities Per 100K Population
New Mexico2.24
Hawaii1.77
Florida1.72
South Carolina1.61
Arizona1.53
Louisiana1.38
Nevada1.36
California1.31
Wyoming1.27
Delaware1.09
Georgia1.09
Texas1.08
North Carolina1.06
Alabama1.04
Mississippi1
Arkansas0.96
Oregon0.95
Tennessee0.94
Maryland0.92
New Jersey0.89
Oklahoma0.85
District of Columbia0.82
Missouri0.77
Connecticut0.77
Kentucky0.76
Montana0.75
Alaska0.68
Virginia0.67
North Dakota0.66
West Virginia0.65
Michigan0.62
New York0.62
Washington0.61
Pennsylvania0.58
Colorado0.55
Indiana0.53
Maine0.52
Ohio0.52
Illinois0.48
Massachusetts0.46
Utah0.44
Nebraska0.36
Minnesota0.34
South Dakota0.34
Iowa0.31
Rhode Island0.3
New Hampshire0.29
Kansas0.26
Wisconsin0.22
Idaho0.19
Vermont0.18
Total0.92

Source: State Highway Safety Offices and U.S. Census Bureau

Most and least dangerous metro areas for pedestrians

To show the relative safety of pedestrians across the nation, the “Dangerous by Design 2019” report 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:

Most Dangerous Cities for Walkers
2019 Rank Metro Area Pedestrian Deaths (2008-2017) Annual Pedestrian Fatalities per 100,000 People 2019 Pedestrian Danger Index
1Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL6562.82313.3
2Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL2123.45265.4
3Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL1652.94245
4North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL1942.58234.6
5Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL1622.54230.9
6Jacksonville, FL4192.94226.2
7Bakersfield, CA2472.83217.7
8Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL1482.17217
9Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL9003.07204.7
10Jackson, MS1111.92192
11Memphis, TN-MS-AR2972.21184.2
12Baton Rouge, LA1822.21157.9
13Birmingham-Hoover, AL1791.57157
14Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL1,5492.61153.5
15Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC1972.29152.7
16McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX1401.69140.8
17Albuquerque, NM2132.35138.2
18Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI7571.76135.4
19Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR1181.62135
20Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC1262.15134.4

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
  • People walking and driving while using cellphones
  • Intoxication among both drivers and pedestrians
  • More light-trucks and SUVs on the roads

The GHSA website highlights initiatives it proposes that would reduce pedestrian deaths and has examples of programs underway in some states to improve pedestrian safety.

How pedestrian accidents affect car insurance?

Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst for Carinsurance.com, said pedestrian accidents influence car insurance costs.

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.