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Last Year Was the Deadliest for Pedestrians Since 1990

Pedestrian deaths continue to climb, even as other traffic fatalities decline. Nearly half of the deaths occurred in just five states.

pedestrian deaths


  • Last year, 6,227 pedestrians died in the United States, marking the highest number since 1990.
  • Over the last decade, pedestrian deaths have risen by 35 percent while other traffic deaths declined by 6 percent.
  • The Governors Highway Safety Association attributes the rise to more people driving, population growth, and the prevalence of SUVs and smartphones. 
Pedestrian deaths have been on the rise for a decade, reaching their highest level since 1990 last year. According to preliminary estimates, there were 6,227 U.S. pedestrian deaths in 2018.

“While we have made progress reducing fatalities among many other road users in the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen 35 percent,” said Jonathan Adkins, the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which produced the estimates. “The alarm bells continue to sound on this issue. It’s clear we need to fortify our collective efforts to protect pedestrians and reverse the trend.”

Pedestrian deaths make up a bigger share of overall traffic deaths than they did a decade ago. The GHSA predicts they will account for 16 percent of all traffic deaths in 2018, compared to 12 percent in 2008.

In fact, the number of overall traffic deaths that don’t involve pedestrians declined by 6 percent over that 10-year span, compared with a 35 percent increase in pedestrian deaths.

The numbers varied considerably by state, the GHSA found. Nearly as many states saw their pedestrian deaths decrease in 2018 as increase. In fact, just five states -- Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas -- accounted for nearly half (46 percent) of all the pedestrian deaths in the country.

The safety group suggested several trends that might be contributing to the number of pedestrian deaths:

  • The increase in driving linked to the economic recovery.
  • Population growth. The 10 fastest-growing states in the country also saw the number of pedestrian deaths increase at a faster pace than the country as a whole.
  • The increasing prevalence of SUVs on the road. The number of SUV-related pedestrian deaths increased by 50 percent between 2013 and 2017, compared with a 30 percent increase in pedestrian deaths involving passenger cars.
  • The growing use of smartphones, which contribute to distracted driving.
The safety group also noted that pedestrian deaths at night were increasing at a much higher rate than daytime fatalities. Three-quarters of all walkers who died in traffic crashes in 2017 were struck at night.

More than a third of the pedestrian deaths occurred on local streets; 8 percent happened on county roads; 25 percent on state highways; 16 percent on federal highways; and 10 percent on interstate highways. Pedestrians are prohibited on interstates, but the GHSA noted that several of the fatalities there involved motorists who were standing outside of their cars after breakdowns.

GHSA based its estimates on preliminary data from the first six months of the year that was shared by state highway safety offices.

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