While a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association showed pedestrian fatalities trended up in the first half of 2020, the report also noted how several state-directed efforts are successfully improving pedestrian safety.

[Photo by North Carolina DOT.]

GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety report found that the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate increased 20 percent in the first six months of 2020 as speeding, distracted, and impaired driving – as well as other dangerous driving behaviors – increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The analysis found that from January through June 2020, motor vehicle crashes killed 2,957 pedestrians – six more than the same period in 2019. Consequently, as vehicle miles traveled or VMT declined 16.5 percent nationwide during the same period in 2020, the rate of drivers striking and killing pedestrians jumped to 2.2 deaths per billion VMT — a significant increase from 1.8 deaths in 2019. 

GHSA’s report also identified significant improvements within its analysis of state-reported data:  

  • Pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2020 declined in 20 states and Washington D.C. compared with the same period in 2019.  
  • Nine states – Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – witnessed double-digit percentage and numeric declines in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same six-month period in 2019. 
  • Based on analysis of 2017-2020 data, Arizona has experienced two consecutive years of declining pedestrian fatalities, while Delaware and Kentucky have experienced three consecutive years of declining pedestrian deaths.  

GHSA’s report noted that most pedestrians are killed on local roads, in the dark, and away from intersections – suggesting the need for safer road crossings and increased efforts to make pedestrians more visible through improved lighting and other countermeasures.  

In addition, during the past 10 years, the number of drivers striking and killing a pedestrian after dark increased by 54 percent, compared to a 16 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities in daylight, GHSA said. 

The group’s report further noted that alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian occurred in nearly half of traffic crashes that resulted in a pedestrian fatality. 

[Editor’s note: In a recent ‘On Time with Tymon’ video series, Jim Tymon – executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – discussed why motor vehicle crashes increased during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the overall reduction in VMT.] 

The report highlighted proven strategies employed at the state and local level to reduce pedestrian fatalities – including engineering and road design, high visibility and automated enforcement, pedestrian safety assessments and road safety audits, and education directed to children and crash bystanders. Some examples include: 

  • North Carolina’s “Watch for Me NC” program and New Jersey’s “Street Smart,” aim to reduce pedestrian and bicycle injuries and deaths through a comprehensive, targeted approach of public education, community engagement, and high visibility law enforcement. Evaluations of both programs indicate they have been effective in changing motorist and pedestrian behavior.
  • The Georgia Office of Highway Safety is awarding grants to implement education programs in cities with significant increases in pedestrian fatalities and where walking is the primary mode of transportation – one of a number of educational strategies identified in the state’s five-year multidisciplinary Pedestrian Safety Action Plan designed to work in consort with engineering, enforcement, and emergency strategies.  
  • The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning’s statewide campaign, “Everybody’s Road, Everybody’s Rules,” involves 12 law enforcement agencies in 12 cities to educate and engage with motorists and pedestrians. They focused on motorists making illegal turns, failing to stop at a signal or crosswalk, and not yielding to pedestrians, and spoke with pedestrians about using sidewalks where provided or walking against traffic on a roadway without a sidewalk. 
  • Delaware Highway Safety Office programs such as summer beach pedestrian high visibility enforcement and education mobilization; updated pedestrian information via its “Arrive Alive DE” website; conducting pedestrian safety outreach via Delaware Rapid Transit bus “street teams” along high crash routes, and developing “visibility messaging” to address nighttime pedestrian fatalities.