Examining the Increase in Pedestrian Fatalities in the United States, 2009–2018

This research examines the increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2009 to 2018 through analysis of changes in the presence of certain pedestrian, driver, vehicle, and environmental factors.

January 2021

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Abstract

Introduction

Over the period from 2009 to 2018, pedestrian fatalities in the United States increased 53%, from 4,109 to 6,283, after decreasing for three decades. The proportion of all traffic fatalities that were pedestrians increased from 12% to 17% over the same time period. Between 2010 and 2017, the U.S. experienced the largest percentage increase in pedestrian fatalities among 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development, 24 of which saw decreases in pedestrian fatalities.

Although major risk factors for pedestrian crashes, injuries, and deaths are well documented (e.g., high speeds, large vehicles, poor lighting) and some studies have examined long-term trends in pedestrian fatalities, not much is known about the factors underlying the large increase in pedestrian fatalities in recent years. The main objective of this research was to examine more closely the increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2009 to 2018 through analysis of changes in the presence of certain pedestrian, driver, vehicle, and environmental factors. The outcomes of this analysis are also described in the context of other recent and topical studies.

Key Findings

Virtually the entire increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2009 to 2018 occurred in urban areas:  the number of pedestrians killed in urban areas increased by more than 2,000 over the study period, while the number in rural areas increased by one. Well over two-thirds of the overall increase in pedestrian fatalities occurred on urban non-freeway arterials. The number of pedestrian fatalities at non-intersection locations on the roadway increased by more than 1,800 while the number killed at intersections increased by 29. The number of pedestrians killed in darkness increased by 1,900 while the number killed in daylight increased by fewer than 200. Deaths of adult pedestrians accounted for the entirety of the increase; the number of child and teen-aged pedestrian fatalities decreased. Although alcohol is a major factor in pedestrian fatalities generally, neither intoxication on the part of pedestrians nor drivers appear to have played a large role in the increasing trend. Although the proportion of pedestrians fatally struck by sport utility vehicles increased over the study period, the increase in the absolute number of pedestrians fatally struck by cars was larger.

Methodology

Data on all motor vehicle crashes that occurred in the United States in the years 2009 to 2018 and that resulted in the death of a pedestrian were examined in an attempt to determine whether there were identifiable pedestrian, driver, vehicle, or environmental characteristics that accounted for substantial proportions of the overall increase in pedestrian fatalities over this 10-year period. Pedestrian, driver, vehicle, and environmental factors present in crashes fatal to pedestrians were tabulated by year. For each of these factors, the change in the annual number of pedestrian fatalities within each category and the percentage of the overall change in the number of pedestrian fatalities accounted for by each category were computed.

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Authors

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Lindsay Arnold

Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

William J. Horrey

Group Leader, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety