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GHSA’s 2020 Preliminary Data: Pedestrian Fatalities on Pace with Previous Years Despite Less Vehicles on the Road

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a special Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State – 2020 Preliminary Data report. In the past decade, the nation has faced an overwhelming increase in pedestrian fatalities. Seven states, all with deaths in the triple digits in the first half of 2019, manage to account for a vast 54% of all pedestrian deaths in the U.S., and you guessed it, Florida is an honorary member of the seven deadly states, ranking in the top three.

This alarming nationwide trend has been an ongoing issue, with an unprecedented 55% increase in pedestrian deaths from 2009 to 2018. A glimpse of hope arose with a 1% decline in the country’s fatalities from 2018 to 2019, and compared to the first six months of 2019 versus 2020, there were 53 fewer deaths in Florida.

On the other hand, data from the first half of 2020 is not shaping up to appear as another small victory. In 2020, Florida still encountered 332 deaths from January to June alone. Just below New Mexico, Florida is the second highest state regarding pedestrian fatalities by population, at a whopping 3.3 deaths per one hundred thousand residents, outranking states like Texas and California. The report touches on the fact that in 2019, 75% of fatalities occurred at night, which calls for drivers to be increasingly aware of their surroundings when operating a vehicle in the dark. The GHSA also reports black Americans to have an unusually high ratio of pedestrian deaths, making up 21% of total deaths, yet only 12% of the population.

“Walking should not be a life and death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” Jonathan Adkins, the GHSA’s executive director, said in a statement.

Preliminary data from the GHSA indicates fatality levels in 2020 are on track to be just as high as the preceding year, despite substantial reductions in motor vehicle transportation associated with the pandemic.

Key findings from analysis of this preliminary data found that:

  • For the first six months of 2020, GHSA projects 2,957 pedestrian fatalities, which closely
  • mirrors the number of pedestrian fatalities reported for the first six months of 2019 (2,951).
  • In addition, GHSA projects a pedestrian fatality rate of 1.9 per 100,000 population for January
  • through December 2020, which would be a slight reduction from the 2019 pedestrian fatality
  • rate of 2.0 per 100,000 population.
  • On a mileage driven basis, however, GHSA projects a 20% increase in the pedestrian fatality
  • rate per one billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the first half of 2020 compared with the
  • first half of 2019.
  • States reported a range of changes in the number of pedestrian fatalities in the first half of
  • 2020 compared with the same period in 2019:
    • 27 states had increases in pedestrian fatalities
    • 20 states and D.C. had decreases
    • 3 states had no change

COVID-19 Impact

The emergence of COVID-19 was accompanied by deadly side effects for pedestrians. Surprisingly, more people staying home has increased pedestrian deaths due to “speeding, distracted driving, and impaired driving,” according to GHSA. People tend to drive more erratically with a seemingly open road in front of them, unaware of the chance that a pedestrian could be around the corner. The group estimates if this trend were to continue, 2020 will have the most substantial rise in U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per mile driven.

Opting for a bike ride or walk to your destination shouldn’t be a gamble with your life. According to Jonathan Adkins, the GHSA executive director, “The traffic safety community should focus on a comprehensive approach that uses every tool available to save lives, including engineering, community outreach, emergency response and equitable enforcement that prioritizes the prevention of driving behaviors that pose the greatest threats to non-motorized road users.” Walking and cycling are the most environmentally friendly and basic forms of transportation, and in many cases, they are essential for everyday commutes whether the destination is work, the grocery store, even a local park.

“The vulnerability of pedestrians as opposed to drivers is daunting, and an incredible amount of work must continue to occur in order to eliminate distracted driving and other damaging behaviors, but preventative measures to change drivers behaviors and make engineering changes are being taken by Best Foot Forward partners,” said Emily Hanna, executive director of Bike/Walk Central Florida, the organization managing the BFF program.

2020 may have been a statistical anomaly due to COVID-19, but the next GHSA report containing the data on the rest of the year should show the full picture.



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