Preliminary data suggests pedestrian fatalities drastically increased during the first six months of 2020, despite a sharp drop in the national average of vehicle miles traveled during lockdowns and “stay-at-home” orders as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a pedestrian fatality report on last week, which analyzes data collected over the first six months of the 2020 calendar year, indicates that there was a 20% increase in pedestrian deaths compared to the prior year. The increase is believed to be the result of increased speeding, distracted driving and other dangerous driving behaviors that increased last year, with less cars on the roads.
According to the report, 2,957 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents from January through June 2020, while 2,951 were killed during the same period in 2019.
While not typically considered a significant statistical change in consecutive years, researchers noted when factoring in the 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationwide during the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic, the rate of drivers striking pedestrians drastically increased from 1.8 VMT in 2019 to 2.2 deaths per billion in 2020.
According to the report, if pedestrian fatality data being collected for the second half of the 2020 calendar year follows previous patterns, 2020 is projected to be the largest ever annual increase in U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per miles driven.
GHSA reported the new pedestrian fatality data is an alarming statistic when considering miles traveled in 2020 were drastically reduced, and that the 2019 year being used for comparison saw the highest number of pedestrian deaths recorded in more than three decades.
A number of contributing factors may be causing the rise in pedestrian deaths, including the need for safer road crossings, unsafe driving behaviors, the increased presence of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and the tremendous growth of smartphone use, which is a significant source of distracted driving.
Earlier this year the American Automobile Association (AAA) released a pedestrian accident fatality report analyzing trends over a ten-year span contributing to the consecutive increases in pedestrian motor vehicle fatalities.
The report identified the number of SUV involved pedestrian fatalities skyrocketed by 79% over the course of the study, which supports past research indicating the higher setting front ends of SUVs commonly causes increased trauma to a pedestrian when struck, decreasing the odds of survival following an impact even at lower speeds.
Researchers also identified an 87% increase in pedestrian fatalities occurring during the weekday evening and nighttime hours between 4:00pm and 11:00pm, which could be attributed to the steadily increasing number people electing to walk to and from work, and for personal errands.
The rising rate of fatal car accidents has become a major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It released a series of safety recommendations in September 2018, calling for the NHTSA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to collaborate on efforts to produce better standards to will protect pedestrians.
In September 2020, the NHTSA launched the first ever National Pedestrian Safety Month campaign, in which members of the members of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the GHSA, and members of the State and Local Program Director for America Walks gathered to discuss possible causes for increasing pedestrian fatality rates and identify policy, roadway design ideas and technology that could reduce the rate of vehicle collisions with pedestrians.