The projected pedestrian fatality rate for 2020 skyrocketed 21% — the largest ever year-over-year increase, according to new data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
Specifically, GHSA estimates that 6,721 pedestrians lost their lives in 2020, representing a 4.8% increase from the 6,412 fatalities reported in 2019.
Even more disturbing, roadway travel was down dramatically in 2020 due to COVID-19. Factoring in a 13.2% decrease in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2020, the pedestrian fatality rate was 2.3 per billion VMT, an unprecedented 21% increase from 1.9 in 2019. This projection is the largest ever annual increase in the pedestrian death rate since data capture began in 1975.
The GHSA analysis also explores the reasons for the significant spike in pedestrian deaths.
The blame goes mostly to dangerous driving behaviors — speeding, impaired driving, and distraction — which were widespread on U.S. roads during the pandemic. In addition, experts say infrastructure issues have prioritized the movement of motor vehicles over walking and bicycling for many years — making roadways more hazardous to pedestrians.
An addendum to a GHSA report issued in March 2020 for the first six months of the year, this latest report provides the first look at projected pedestrian fatalities for the full year. The report draws on additional preliminary data provided by the State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.).
While the overall fatality news is disturbing, some positive trends emerge in the state-reported data. Nineteen states experienced decreases in the number of pedestrians killed by drivers in 2020, with 11 states reporting double-digit declines.