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Pedestrian Fatalities: Accident Rate On the Rise

pedestrian deaths on the rise
Pedestrian Deaths & Accidents

Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise across the US.

The simple act of walking across the street poses a threat whether in a city or a rural area.

The Governors Highway Safety Agency – GHSA for short – reports that during the 10 year period leading up to 2017 pedestrian fatalities rose by a full 35 per cent. That’s 4,415 pedestrian fatalities in 2008 and 5,977 deaths in 2017.

The report, released in February 2019, covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

What state had the lowest rate of pedestrian fatalities?

Are transportation and traffic leaders doing anything to combat the trend of increasing pedestrian deaths?

Pedestrian Accidents Top List of Casualties

The new report delves into statistics and compares states but one thing is clear:

“The present study, based on preliminary data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC), found the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths observed in both 2015 and 2016 appears to have resumed in 2018, although at a lesser pace.”

Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, Governors Highway Safety Association

While pedestrian fatalities rose 35 percent over the ten year period they looked at, the combined number of all other traffic deaths actually went down by six percent.

Why so Many Pedestrian Fatalities?

The increase in pedestrian fatalities comes largely at night, more so than during daylight hours.

What’s behind the rise? Researches think these factors may contribute:

  • Growth of smartphone use, a “significant source” of distraction both to pedestrians and drivers
  • Shifting preferences away from sedans towards SUVs – larger vehicles cause more severe injuries
  • Population growth
  • Economic conditions
  • Weather changes
  • Fuel prices
  • Vehicle miles travelled
  • Amount of time people spend walking

These factors come together and traffic worsens and pedestrians face greater danger. Bad weather means reduced visibility and longer stopping distances.  As we’ve pointed out in another blog article, rainy wet weather conditions are often as bad as or worse than snowy winter driving dangers.

As for population growth, the 10 U.S. states with the highest population growth saw significant increases in the rate of pedestrian fatalities.

Can Anything be Done to Combat Rising Pedestrian Fatalities?

Sometimes I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands when I walk across the street. Even if I look carefully in both directions I worry that drivers are checking their Facebook, watching a Youtube video or otherwise distracted.  And if they’re speeding along, BAM that’s it.

The numbers in the study unfortunately seem to confirm the thought. Are there steps that can be taken to reverse the trend?

According to the Governor’s Association states use various approaches:

  • Engineering
  • Enforcement
  • Public Outreach and Education
  • Targeted Enforcement

Where smart phone use distracts drivers, a growing number of states are passing various laws addressing texting and using the phones while driving. We addressed New Hampshire’s hands-free law in another blog article. But even the casual observer must conclude that such laws are not always observed.

Bicycle lanes now appear in more and more cities nationwide.  Efforts to not only accommodate but to encourage bicycle use in metropolitan areas abound.   At the same time pedestrians face the same dangers.  The Governors association report seems to indicate the situation is not only no better, but far worse for city and rural foot traffic.

Pedestrian Fatalities State-by-State

Numbers released in February 2019 focused on the six month period between January and June, 2018. The state with the lowest pedestrian fatality rate is New Hampshire with only one pedestrian fatality in that time period.  New Hampshire also had the greatest reduction – three percent – in the number of such deaths compared to the year before.

Massachusetts was right in the middle of the 50 states, racking up 38 pedestrian fatalities during that period, up three per cent from the previous year.

Massachusetts reported steps being taken to address pedestrian danger. The state funded 84 local police departments across Massachusetts to do overtime patrols aimed solely at reducing pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities.  The funding also went towards traffic cones, crosswalk signs, crosswalk markers and bicycle helmets, all in the interest of improving pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The same goals drove various engineering work.   The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, or MassDOT, encouraged various intersection facelifts.  Work included new signal equipment, timing upgrades, new signs, new pavement marking and upgrades in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

Pedestrian Injuries and Recovering for Accidents

Pedestrians injured by a vehicle or more accurately the negligence of a driver face the potential for recovery for those injuries.   Such injuries can range from minor sprain injuries, to catastrophic injuries to pedestrian fatalities, the subject discussed above.

Sometimes people say “oh, it was only an accident”. But if everyone was paying full attention to the road, such “accidents” would not happen.

Negligence is the failure to do, or not do, something that a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances would do to avoid causing harm to another person. This is the simplified legal definition of negligence.  But it doesn’t matter.  Whether a driver was texting, talking on the smart phone, eating, turning around to yell at the kids, or otherwise distracted, and then drives into a pedestrian, it’s not “just an accident”.

My office has handled personal injury and accident cases in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for many years. Pedestrian accidents, highway accidents, rear-end accidents and other unfortunate collisions, we push for the optimal result for our clients.   Feel free to contact us through this website or by phone now to schedule a free consultation.


Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, Governors Highway Safety Agency, 2018 Preliminary Data.  Click here.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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