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Personal Injury

Pedestrian Fatalities on the Rise

August 7, 2018

Updated: March 18, 2020

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The number of pedestrians fatally injured in motor vehicle accidents has seen a sharp rise in recent years. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian fatalities rose 46% between 2009 and 2016, the highest rate since George H.W. Bush’s presidency in the early 1990s. In 2009, pedestrian fatalities were just above 4,000 whereas in 2016, fatalities reached nearly 6,000. These numbers rose nationwide, particularly in urban areas with populations over 200,000 people.

10 Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration compiled a list of the most dangerous U.S. cities for pedestrians based on deaths involving motor vehicles per 100,000 residents:

Pedestrian Fatalities

Potential Causes

While it is difficult to definitively attribute exact causation for the increase in pedestrian fatalities, speculation identifies a variety of factors that may be linked to this rise:

  • Texting and driving. Studies show that active smartphone use has increased by 236% from 2010 to 2016 and may have played a role in the spike in pedestrian mortalities over this time period.
  • Distracted pedestrians. This may also be connected to the increase in active smartphone use.
  • Drunk pedestrians and drivers.
  • Increased use of SUVs. Sport Utility Vehicle sales surpassed sedans in 2014 and now account for 60% of all new vehicle sales. Similarly, the number of single vehicle pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs has increased 81% since 2009 according to NHTSA. The strongest correlation seems to be between pedestrian deaths and SUV use in the U.S.

Why are SUVs more dangerous?

Upon a meta-analysis of 12 independent studies concluded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, findings suggest that pedestrians are two to three times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck than when struck by a sedan. Two possibilities exist that may explain this phenomenon:

  • SUVs are larger and have a blunter nose than cars. The hoods of SUVs reach higher up on a person’s body, therefore, when struck by an SUV, a person’s abdomen and head are at greater risk for impact. This is in contrast to sedans, which would usually impact a person’s legs. Although leg injuries can be severe, impact to the head or abdomen can pose a greater risk of fatality.
  • SUVs are more powerful and therefore can travel at faster speeds. The combination of the increased size of SUVs and their speed capabilities may be causing more fatalities.

Speed is a factor

Research from the European Commission, a branch of the European Union, shows that speed is the most determinant factor in pedestrian fatalities. Research shows that fatalities among pedestrians struck by a vehicle dramatically rises when speed increases by increments of 10mph.

Pedestrian Fatalities