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Traffic Fatalities Reach All Time Low, Pedestrian Deaths Soar

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals good and bad news about traffic deaths over the past several years. Deaths occurring in vehicle crashes have dropped to historic lows, whereas pedestrian fatalities are on the rise. The number of vehicle fatalities (not including motorcycles) has been steadily dropping since 2002. Data from 2012 (1) shows a slight increase in vehicle fatalities, but even with that increase, highway deaths are still around where they were in 1950. Based on preliminary data, the NHTSA projects a decrease in deaths in 2013 from the previous year, suggesting that the trend for low highway fatalities may continue.

Conversely, pedestrian deaths have been reaching new highs, rising approximately 4% from 2009 to 2010 (2), and then another 4% from 2010 to 2011 (3).  Transportation for America, a nonprofit group, has ranked the top 50 most dangerous metropolitan cities for pedestrians (4). Of the top five, four are in Florida -- Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami. A large portion of the most dangerous metropolises are concentrated in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States -- but even cities like San Jose, Austin and Tucson have been reporting record highs in pedestrian deaths over the last few years.

Transportation for America’s David Goldberg has stated that most of the pedestrian fatalities occur on “arterial” roads -- high-capacity, urban roads -- in major cities: “They’re too fast, too wide, and in many cases, way over capacity,” he said in December of 2011. The NHTSA’s data corroborates this statement, showing that most pedestrian deaths happen in urban areas. They also are more likely to occur in clear weather and at night, with alcohol intoxication (of either the driver or the pedestrian) often being a factor. Tanya Snyder of StreetBlog noted why arterial roads are poorly suited for pedestrian use, saying, “These wide, straight roads are often extremely hostile to pedestrians. They feature little to no facilities for walking, so drivers aren’t looking for people on foot.”

Some cities and states are beginning to address the soaring pedestrian fatalities: In Delaware, the rise in pedestrian deaths in 2013 was staggering enough that state officials launched a campaign called  “Don't Join the Walking Dead” (5) in order to raise awareness and help pedestrians stay safer. Bus and shelter ads, sidewalk decals, informational flyers, and even pedestrian safety checks were parts of the effort. The state of Florida, one of the most dangerous to pedestrians, has a similar campaign called  “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow”. (6) The city of Jacksonville, one of the top three most dangerous cities for pedestrians, is contemplating re-engineering its roads with pedestrians in mind. 


Pedestrian deaths aren’t the only ones on the rise: motorcycle deaths are at an all-time high, having doubled in the past fifteen years. (7) Good weather, high gas prices, and a shaky economy are facilitating motorcycle purchases in the US. (8) In contrast, new car sales in the UK spiked 15.6% spike in the UK (9), resulting in 6 luxury cars selling well last year. With more drivers relying on fuel-efficient motorcycles for transportation each day, understandably fatalities have spiked. Intoxication is one of the most common causes of motorcycle crashes, (10) and failure to use helmets may also play a role. States such as Michigan and Pennsylvania experienced higher fatalities and higher medical insurance claims associated with motorcycle accidents after the states’ respective motorcycle helmet laws were repealed.


Chris Turberville-Tully enjoys traveling abroad by plane, boat, car and on foot. To date Chris has visited over 80 countries and still his adventures around the globe continue.



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