Roadway deaths in the U.S. are mounting despite government test data showing vehicles have been getting safer. While the number of all car-related fatalities has trended upward over the last decade, the sharpest rise has been among pedestrians and cyclists.
The U.S. first began crash testing cars in the 1970s, and it implemented the 5-star rating system in 1993. In 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began requiring window labels on new vehicles to include those ratings.
Thanks to vehicle improvements, seatbelt laws and other changes, fatal crashes in the U.S. trended downward for decades, hitting a low of 29,867 in 2011. But that trend has reversed. Government estimates of fatal crashes in 2022 show a 43% increase to 42,795 — partially thanks to increases in speeding and drunk driving and decreases in seatbelt use. Fatal crashes also increased as a percent of total miles driven. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased by 64% since 2011, to an estimated 8,413 in 2022.
This coincides with a steep increase in sales of SUVs, pickup trucks and vans, which are more likely to kill or seriously injure a pedestrian when involved in a crash. Sales of those vehicles accounted for 78% of new U.S. vehicle sales in 2022, according to Motorintelligence.com.
Current U.S. ratings only consider the safety of the people inside the vehicle. The National Association of City Transportation Officials is leading an effort asking U.S. transportation officials to begin factoring the safety of those outside of vehicles into their 5-star safety ratings.
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FIND YOUR STATE: PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES BY STATE
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not yet have final numbers on traffic fatalities for 2022, but nationwide estimates can be found here. Meanwhile, the agency’s database of traffic crashes allows a user to search for state-specific data. This tab shows fatal pedestrian crashes by state from 1994 through 2020.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Administration also collects data on fatal crashes and has a report on preliminary pedestrian crash data by state for 2022. This group also has some useful infographics available for download at the bottom of the page.
Data collection varies a bit between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration, so numbers may not line up exactly.
VIEW ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
The National Association of City Transportation Officials is pushing to make pedestrian safety testing a mandatory component of the official government five-star safety ratings for new passenger vehicles. Find out if your city is a member of this organization.
Families for Safe Streets fights for policies that will help prevent pedestrian and cyclist deaths. The group also has a support network for families and friends of those killed by traffic violence. Find out if your city has a chapter.
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While changes to the five-star rating system require federal action, experts say truly solving the problem of pedestrian and cyclists deaths requires a multi-pronged approach with state and local officials playing a part as well. This is called a safe system approach that will have redundancies built in. For example, cars could be required to have sensors that detect pedestrians. At the same time, cities could lower speed limits and step up enforcement of existing traffic laws. And states could fund structural changes like crosswalk beacons and traffic medians that can help pedestrians cross streets safely.
—- Ask your local city or state transportation officials what they are doing about lowering speed limits; improving enforcement of existing traffic laws; and making structural changes to streets like protected bike lanes. Ask if the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are considered when improving or repaving streets. Do they have an overall plan for non-motorist safety improvements?
— If your city or state transportation department has someone whose job is to promote the transportation needs of non-motorists, ask them about the challenges they face. Do they need more money? Is there resistance to the idea of spending road money on non-motorist needs? What are the local groups that are trying to help?
— Ask how much money your local city and state transportation departments have budgeted for improvements that will benefit pedestrians and cyclists. How has this changed over the past decade?
— Find a local cycling group or safe-streets advocacy group and ask them about their work. What challenges do they face? Can they connect you with family or friends who have lost a loved one to traffic violence? Ask them who else you should be talking to.
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