The number of people struck and killed by drivers nationwide while walking increased by an astonishing 45 percent over the last decade (2010-2019).
The four most recent years on record (2016-2019) are the most deadly years for pedestrian deaths since 1990. During this ten-year period, 53,435 people were hit and killed by drivers.
In 2019, the 6,237 people killed is the equivalent of more than 17 people dying per day.
If these statements feel familiar, it’s because they are, painfully so. It has been more than a decade since the first edition of Dangerous by Design, and this problem has only gotten worse. Dangerous by Design 2021 takes a closer look at this alarming epidemic.
The risk is not evenly distributed
Older adults, people of color, and people walking in low-income communities are disproportionately represented in fatal crashes involving people walking—even after controlling for differences in population size and walking rates.
Although people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and income levels suffer the consequences of dangerous street design, some neighborhoods and groups of people bear a larger share of the burden than others, which may contribute to the indifference of many policymakers to this astonishing increase. From 2010-2019, Black people were struck and killed by drivers at a 82 percent higher rate than White, non-Hispanic Americans. For American Indian and Alaska Native people, that disparity climbs to 221 percent.
People age 50 and up, and especially people age 75 and older, are overrepresented in these deaths. These age groups are more likely to experience challenges seeing, hearing, or moving, and if these trends are any indication, we are not devoting nearly enough attention to the unique needs of older adults when we design our streets.
People walking in lower-income neighborhoods are also killed far more often. The lower a metro area’s median household income, the more dangerous its streets are likely to be for people walking.
The fatality rate in the lowest income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle income census tracts (in median household income) and almost three times that of higher-come neighborhoods. This is unsurprising, given that low-income communities are significantly less likely than higher-income communities to have sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and street design to support safer, slower speeds.
Protecting the safety of all people who use the street, especially those most vulnerable to being struck and killed, needs to be a higher priority for policymakers, and this priority must be reflected in the decisions we make about how to fund, design, operate, maintain, and measure the success of our roads.
To reverse these trends and save lives, we need to protect all users of the transportation system through our policies, programs, and funding, while prioritizing the safety of those who are most at risk.
Why is this happening?
In a word, because state and local transportation agencies place a higher value on speed (and avoiding delay) than they do on safety. It’s simply not possible to prioritize both. When faced with decisions that would elevate and prioritize safety for people walking but increase delay for vehicles, the decision-makers’ true priorities are laid bare.
Many states and localities have spent the last ten years focusing on enforcement, running ineffectual education campaigns, or blaming the victims of these crashes, while ignoring or actively distracting people from the role of roadway design in these deaths. States and localities must stop deploying the same playbook and expecting this trend to change—they need a fundamentally different approach to the problem. They need to acknowledge that their approach to building and operating streets and roads contributes to these deaths.
Where are the most dangerous places?
Dangerous by Design ranks states and metropolitan areas around the country using our “Pedestrian Danger Index”, or PDI, which measures how deadly it is for people to walk based on the number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking, controlling for the number of people and the share of people who walk to work as a proxy for overall walking in an area. This report includes deaths that occurred between 2010 and 2019 from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national database of all fatal traffic crashes.
What can and should be done
Our federal government needs to take the lead on prioritizing safer streets. Federal dollars and policies helped create these unsafe streets in the first place. And federal funds, policies, and guidance have a significant role to play in fixing these streets and in designing the streets we’ll build tomorrow.
For more specific actions that YOU can take, including a way to send a message to your representatives, click over to the Complete Streets Act to learn how when can help change this horrible statistic
We call on Congress to adopt the Complete Streets Act of 2021 that requires state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consistently plan for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable users.
We call on state DOTs and MPOs to put people first and give their organizations the tools and training they need to create transportation networks that serve all users.
We call on the over 1,500 communities that have adopted a Complete Streets policy to turn their vision into practice and implementation.
And we call on you to demand safer streets from the elected officials in your communities.
For the complete study, visit here