In 2021, some 7,485 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic collisions — an 11.5% increase over the 6,607 deaths in 2020, according to the latest projections from the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration (GHSA). That translates into the largest increase in pedestrian fatalities in four decades.
Some states fared better than others. For the full year 2021, pedestrian fatalities are projected to have increased in 37 states and the District of Columbia, remain unchanged in three states, and decreased in only 10 states.
Two states — Florida and Texas — each had more than 100 additional pedestrian deaths in 2021 as compared with the previous year. Specifically, Florida experienced 183 lost lives and Texas saw 111 pedestrians die on the state’s roadways.
In addition, seven states experienced an increase of more than 30% in the number of people on foot struck and killed by a motor vehicle. These included Maine with a 122% increase, West Virginia (100%), Wyoming (71%), District of Columba (70%), Vermont (33%), Arkansas (33%), and Illinois (30%).
Evaluating 2020 Pedestrian Crash Data to Determine Trends
In addition to looking at 2021 national and state fatality data, GHSA’s report also assesses 2020 national FARS data to determine trends linked to the rise in pedestrian fatalities.
For example, the 2020 national FARS data, which include data from police crash report forms, provide additional insight into the characteristics of the 6,516 pedestrian fatalities currently recorded in the system. 2020 trends linked to pedestrian collisions — speeding, impaired driving, and other risky behaviors — appear to have continued in 2021.
In 2020, the percentage of pedestrian fatalities with speeding cited as a factor increased approximately 20%, from 7.2% to 8.6%.
Speed has a significant impact on pedestrian safety. Research shows the average risk of death for pedestrians increases exponentially the faster a vehicle is traveling, from just 10% at 23 mph to 90% at 58 mph.
Meanwhile, alcohol impairment continues to be a factor for both fatally injured pedestrians as well as the drivers involved in these crashes. In 2020, 31.2% of pedestrians ages 16 or older killed in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.08% or greater. Looking at drivers, in 2020, 16.1% of pedestrian fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher.
Finally, the GHSA report finds that most pedestrian fatalities occur at night, a surprising number take place on interstates or other roads not designed for foot traffic, and SUVs or other larger vehicles are involved in an increasing proportion of pedestrian deaths.