According to a National Highway Traffic Association (NHTSA) study, the pedestrian fatality rate increased by 53 percent between 2008 and 2019. American Automobile Association (AAA) researchers sought to figure out why. Their new report found significant trends in pedestrian fatalities. However, the researchers found that some of their data could not adequately explain the 53 percent increase. They concluded that more research must be conducted to better understand pedestrian fatalities.
Regarding roadway types, 70 percent of the overall increase occurred on either arterials or non-intersections. Intersection fatalities increased by 29 percent and accounted for one percent of the overall rate increase. Non-intersection pedestrian fatalities increased by 70 percent. The researchers speculated that either pedestrian behavior or inadequate pedestrian facilities might explain why pedestrian fatalities occurred in arterial and non-intersection roads.
Regarding speed limits, pedestrian fatalities occurring on roads with speed limits of 25 mph or less increased by 64 percent. Despite this increase, incidents occurring on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or more comprised over two-thirds of the overall increase. The researchers speculated that this reflected the pedestrian fatality rate in arterial roads. They also cited literature that found that pedestrian fatalities in roads with speed limits exceeding 35 mph increased over time. However, they could not adequately explain the increase in pedestrian fatalities on roads with speed limits of less than 25 mph.
Are SUVs to blame?
Researchers speculated that the proliferation of SUVs might contribute to the pedestrian fatality rate increase. They cited literature that found that 60 percent of newly sold vehicles since 2018 were either SUVs or pickup trucks. Based on their data, researchers found that pedestrian fatalities involving an SUV increased by 79 percent. This was the highest increase among all vehicles. These incidents account for 25 percent of the overall pedestrian fatality rate increase. SUVs are larger and heavier than subcompact and compact cars, making them more likely to cause a pedestrian fatality.
Despite this increase in pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs, however, the researchers found that pedestrian fatalities involving cars accounted for 44 percent of the overall increase. This means that SUVs may contribute some of the increase in pedestrian fatalities, but not enough to explain the 53 percent increase. Cars comprise many vehicles on the road, which may explain why they accounted for a plurality of the overall increase.
Regarding vehicle age, pedestrian fatality rates increased for vehicles less than 5 years old, vehicles between 10 and 15 years, and vehicles that were over 15 years old. They each increased by 47, 64, and 190 percent, respectively. By contrast, vehicles between 5-9 years old slightly declined by 8 percent. Vehicles that were over 10 years old accounted for 67 percent of the overall increase. This was likely because older cars do not have modern vehicle safety features.
Pedestrian fatalities at night
Over 85 percent of the overall pedestrian fatality increase occurred at dark. Incidents occurring on weeknights between 11 PM and 4 AM experienced the largest increase, at 89 percent. Almost half of the overall pedestrian fatality increase occurred on weeknights between 4 PM and 4 AM.
More research on pedestrian fatalities is needed
Despite reporting significant data on pedestrian fatalities, the researchers did not appear to provide adequate explanations for some of them. In their conclusion, the researchers recognized this issue. They called for more research that to better understand the factors associated with pedestrian fatalities to better prevent them.
February 2020 GHSA report on pedestrian safety
This study came about a year after the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)’s report pedestrian traffic fatalities in 2019. Based on their data, researchers found the following:
- In 2019’s first six months, the pedestrian fatality rate increased by three percent more than in 2018’s first six months.
- Between 2018 and 2019, the overall pedestrian fatality rate increased by five percent.
- Five states (AZ, CA, FL, GA, and TX) comprised almost half of all pedestrian fatalities.
- New Mexico had the highest pedestrian fatality rates, while Vermont had the lowest.
NTSB recommendations for improving pedestrian safety
Around November 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)’s report included 11 recommendations on improving pedestrian safety to the NHTSA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several of its recommendations to the NHTSA included developing new vehicle safety standards for headlights, vehicle designs, and vehicle safety technology. The NTSB’s recommendation for the FHA was to promote local safety action plans and help state and municipal governments gather data that shall be compiled on the national level. Its recommendation for the CDC was to work with the NHTSA to develop a national pedestrian injury and fatality database.