Some 3,441 pedestrians died in traffic collisions in the first six months of 2021 — that’s a 17% increase over the same period in 2020 and an additional 507 lost lives, according to the latest projections from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
The GHSA report blames several factors including risky driver behaviors, inadequate infrastructure, and larger vehicles for the alarming spike in pedestrian fatalities.
The report offers the first look at state and national trends in 2021 pedestrian traffic deaths, based on preliminary data provided by State Highway Safety Offices (SHSO) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.). The analysis found that, nationwide, there were 1.04 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, up from 0.90 in both 2020 and 2019.
The data also shows that the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians rose to 2.3 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first six months of 2021. That’s an increase from the historically high rate of 2.2 deaths per billion VMT in 2020 and significantly more than the rate of 1.8-1.9, which remained steady in 2017-2019.
The report examines pedestrian fatalities on the state level as well. The projected number of pedestrian deaths for the first half of 2021 ranged from 470 in California to three in Nebraska and Vermont.
The majority of states — 39 and D.C. — experienced an increase in pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2021. Three states — California, Florida, and Texas — accounted for 37% of all pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2021 but are home to 27% of the U.S. population. These states have warmer climates, which tend to increase travel on foot, as well as many urban areas where pedestrians and motor vehicles are more likely to share the road.
On the upside, 11 states experienced declines in the number of pedestrians killed by drivers, with three states—Hawaii, Nebraska, and Virginia— reporting two consecutive years of declines. In addition, two states — Connecticut and North Carolina — posted double-digit fatality reductions in 2021.
The report notes that the increase in pedestrian fatalities over the first half of 2021 continues a long-term trend of roadways being more dangerous for people on foot. Over the last decade, pedestrian deaths have skyrocketed by more than 2,000 — from 4,457 in 2011 to 6,516 in 2020 — a 46% increase.
GHSA concludes that all stakeholders must prioritize pedestrian safety, as it is critical to reaching zero deaths in the U.S. While not every American drives a vehicle, nearly every person — urban or rural, old or young — is exposed to motor vehicles while walking on or near roadways.