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Pedestrian deaths reach 30-year high in 2019

March 2, 2020

Pedestrian deaths caused by drivers increased 50% in the past decade, according to a report released last month from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Moreover, the 6,590 pedestrian deaths forecast for 2019 represents a 5% spike from 2018, and is the highest number of deaths in more than 30 years, when there were far fewer passenger vehicles on roadways. 

“Following 30 years of declining pedestrian fatalities, there has been a complete reversal of progress," GHSA report author Richard Retting said in a statement. "Pedestrians are at an inherent disadvantage in collisions, and we must continue to take a broad approach to pedestrian safety.”

The GHSA is a nonprofit responsible for implementing state highway safety plans, among other things.

Over the same time period since 2009 that pedestrian deaths increased 53%, the number of traffic fatalities not related to pedestrians increased only 2%. Advanced driver assistance systems such as automatic emergency braking have limited vehicle traffic fatalities but that same safety technology hasn't applied to pedestrians until recently.

Pedestrian deaths reach 30-year high, according to GHSA report

Pedestrian deaths reach 30-year high, according to GHSA report

Citing the disproportional rise of pedestrian deaths, this year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety toughened its criteria for awarding the industry-leading Top Safety Pick designations to vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. The technology automatically stops or reduces speed of impact with a vehicle or a pedestrian. 

The IIHS and automakers also acknowledge that most fatal crashes with pedestrians occur at night on local roads away from intersections. The GHSA report found that 67% of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, compared to 16% during the daytime. For 2020, the IIHS requires vehicles to be equipped with LED headlights that rate "Acceptable" or "Good" in their rigorous testing to qualify for a TSP or TSP+ award.  

One contributing factor may not be helped by safety equipment. The proliferation of heavier SUVs has had a disproportionate impact on fatalities, with the GHSA citing pedestrians struck by an SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car. 

Five states accounted for nearly half of all pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2019: California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Warmer states are likely to have more pedestrians. 

The report makes both state and federal recommendations that range from improvements to infrastructure to better education and enforcement.  

"This alarming trend signifies that we need to consider all the factors involved in this rise, identify the high-risk areas, allocate resources where they’re needed most, and continue to work with local law enforcement partners to address the chronic driver violations that contribute to pedestrian crashes,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the GHSA, said in a statement. 

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