What State Has the Most Pedestrian Traffic Deaths?

Photo: Getty Images

A new report detailing the number of pedestrian traffic deaths in the United States has just been released, and the news is not good. In 2018, an estimated 6,227 Americans died from being struck by a vehicle. That’s the highest number since 1990.

The news comes from an annual report by the Governors Highway Safety Association called, “Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data.” And it shows that while pedestrian deaths plummeted from 1990 to 2008, the number of pedestrians killed by cars increased between 2009 and 2017 by an incredible 45 percent.

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So what’s causing the sharp increase? A lot of news outlets seem to be blaming smartphones, but it’s not that simple. One reason that there are more deaths is that more people are walking to work. The report estimates that the number of people who walk to their jobs rose by roughly 4 percent between 2007 and 2016. More pedestrians on the road means more deaths when you don’t do anything to proactively design environments to accommodate more walkers.

Another reason more pedestrians are dying on American roads is the popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). SUVs are more likely to be involved in accidents that result in a pedestrian being killed; the study found that SUVs specifically had a roughly 50 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities since 2013 compared with a 30 percent rise for other cars during the same period.

The study, which works from hard numbers collected from every state for the first six months of 2018 and extrapolates for the rest of the year, acknowledges that phone distractions are a “possible factor” in the rise in pedestrian deaths but admits that there’s a “lack of evidence to establish a definitive link.” That, of course, makes headlines like this, lazy at best and irresponsible at worst because blaming phone distractions oversimplifies the real dangers.

Another key takeaway from the new study is that more pedestrian deaths are happening at night and outside of official intersection crossings.

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From the summary of the report:

Most pedestrian fatalities take place on local roads, at night, away from intersections, suggesting the need for safer road crossings. Over the past 10 years, nighttime crashes accounted for more than 90 percent of the total increase in pedestrian deaths

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“Crossing the street should not be a death sentence,” the report’s author, Richard Retting, said in a statement. “We have a range of proven infrastructure, engineering, and behavioral strategies that we know can reduce pedestrian deaths.”

Where are the most pedestrians dying? Just five states account for a whopping 46 percent of all pedestrian deaths, but some of those also happen to be the most populous states like California, Texas, and Florida. But Georgia and Arizona rank higher despite having smaller populations than states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. But population growth seems to be a factor. Arizona, for example, saw some of the largest population growth from 2017 to 2018.

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Screenshot: Governors Highway Safety Association

If you really want to look at where pedestrians are in the most danger of dying across the U.S., you have to look at the number of deaths as a percentage of the state’s population. Those numbers are below, with the number of deaths per 100,000 population in all 50 states and DC.

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  1. New Mexico 3.53
  2. Delaware 3.45
  3. Nevada 3.36
  4. Arizona 3.21
  5. South Carolina 3.15
  6. Florida 3.14
  7. Kentucky 2.67
  8. Georgia 2.49
  9. Louisiana 2.48
  10. California 2.41
  11. Mississippi 2.37
  12. Alabama 2.32
  13. Texas 2.17
  14. Oklahoma 2.11
  15. New Jersey 2.07
  16. Rhode Island 1.99
  17. Maryland 1.98
  18. North Carolina 1.96
  19. Alaska 1.89
  20. Tennessee 1.88
  21. Oregon 1.78
  22. Missouri 1.65
  23. West Virginia 1.65
  24. Colorado 1.64
  25. Indiana 1.61
  26. Michigan 1.60
  27. DC 1.58
  28. Arkansas 1.53
  29. Maine 1.5
  30. Washington 1.47
  31. Utah 1.35
  32. Virginia 1.35
  33. Montana 1.33
  34. Connecticut 1.29
  35. New York 1.29
  36. Vermont 1.28
  37. Ohio 1.24
  38. Kansas 1.17
  39. Pennsylvania 1.17
  40. Illinois 1.15
  41. South Dakota 1.15
  42. Massachusetts 1.08
  43. Hawaii 1.05
  44. Nebraska 1.04
  45. Wyoming 1.04
  46. Wisconsin 1.00
  47. Idaho 0.93
  48. New Hampshire 0.89
  49. North Dakota 0.79
  50. Iowa 0.76
  51. Minnesota 0.75

What’s the answer to bringing down the pedestrian death toll in the U.S.? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, as the author of the study explains.

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“Critical improvements to road and vehicle design are being made, but take significant time and resources to implement,” Retting continued. “It is also important to conduct law enforcement and safety education campaigns now to ensure drivers and pedestrians can safely coexist.”

“It’s crucial to do everything we can to protect pedestrians utilizing a broad approach.”

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[Associated Press and Governors Highway Safety Association]

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog