American roads have grown more and more dangerous for pedestrians in recent years, according to a recent article by NPR, and statistics show they are especially deadly for minorities. Data gathered by the Governors Highway Safety Administration shows that “6,301 pedestrians were killed by vehicles on American streets” in 2019, an increase of 46% since 2010. The same time frame saw a 5% increase in all traffic fatalities (vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians).
According to NPR, pedestrian deaths in the US increased 20% during the first six months of 2020. That figure, the pedestrian death rate, is calculated by comparing “the number of people struck and killed” by vehicles against “the number of miles driven.” Experts suggest that the death rate increased because as cars disappeared from the roads during the pandemic, many of the drivers who did venture out engaged in speeding and reckless driving.
But speeding may not have been the only cause in the spike in pedestrian deaths, one Governors Highway Safety Administration policy director told NPR: “It’s also a lack of infrastructure… It’s also the safety of the vehicles that are out there on the roads,” he said. This includes vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs, which “dominate new car sales” even though they pose significant risks for pedestrians. This risk is compounded, according to NPR, by the fact that regulatory authorities do not “mandate safety tests that consider pedestrian safety, only those that protect vehicle occupants.”
The Governors Highway Safety Administration data also includes specific breakdowns for pedestrian deaths by race. What it found is that “Black, Native American and Hispanic people were substantially overrepresented in pedestrian deaths, compared with their proportion of the overall population,” according to NPR. Although this was also the case before Covid-19, one transportation expert told NPR that the death rates may have been affected by the fact that during the pandemic, essential workers were unable to stay home. “A lot of those workers are comprised of people of color,” she said, “and we know that a lot of those folks are transit riders, pedestrians or bike riders.”