U.S. pedestrian deaths in 2021 were the highest in four decades, with an average of 20 deaths every day, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
An estimated 7,485 pedestrians were killed in 2021, which was 12% more than in 2020, preliminary data show.
The findings are "heartbreaking and unacceptable," said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the highway safety association.
"The pandemic has caused so much death and damage, it's frustrating to see even more lives needlessly taken due to dangerous driving," he said in an association news release.
The pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 people rose to 2.26 in 2021 from 2.02 the previous year. There were 2.32 pedestrian deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled in 2021 -- similar to 2020 but well above the pre-pandemic average of 1.9.
The reasons are clear: There has been an increase in speeding, impaired, distracted driving and other dangerous driving behaviors in recent years, according to the association's report.
"We must address the root causes of the pedestrian safety crisis -- speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors, inadequate infrastructure, and roads designed for vehicle speed instead of safety -- to reverse this trend and ensure people can walk safely," Adkins said.
The report also included an analysis of 2010 to 2020 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That showed that the percentage of pedestrian fatalities involving speeding rose to 8.6% in 2020 from 7.2% in 2019.
The percentage of pedestrian deaths among children younger than 15 in which speeding was a factor more than doubled between 2018 and 2020, from 5.8% to almost 12%. Most of these fatalities occurred on weekdays and during daylight hours, which is when children would typically be going to and from school and related activities.
Looking further at the dangers of walking, researchers said pedestrians accounted for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2020, compared to 13% in 2010. While pedestrian deaths have risen by 54% over the past decade, all other traffic deaths have increased by 13%.
Most pedestrian fatalities occur at night. In 2020, more than three-quarters of deaths with a known lighting condition were at night.
There may have been a sliver of a silver lining, though: Pedestrian deaths fell by 8% in America's 10 largest cities in 2020 after years of increases, likely because there were fewer people walking and driving due to public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the highway safety association.
There's more on pedestrian safety at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
SOURCE: Governors Highway Safety Association, news release, May 19, 2022