The Covid-19 pandemic has “intensified” trends behind an increase in reckless driving-related pedestrian deaths in the United States, according to a recent report by the New York Times. Despite expectations early in the pandemic that a decrease in drivers on the road would lead to a decrease in pedestrian deaths, in reality the relative emptiness of the nation’s roads “allowed some to drive much faster than before,” while law enforcement departments in some jurisdictions “eased enforcement” to avoid transmitting the coronavirus. Then there’s an apparent increase in road rage, which experts don’t yet fully understand but attribute to psychological effects that affect people’s ability to gauge and react appropriately to risks.
As the Times describes, traffic violence killed at least 6,700 pedestrians in 2020, compared to 6,412 in 2019. Citing data provided by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the Times described estimations that pedestrian deaths per vehicle miles traveled rose 21% that year, with (incomplete) data for 2021 suggesting the trend continued into that year. Zooming out, the Times states, traffic violence-related pedestrian deaths rose 46% in the last ten years, “compared with a 5 percent increase over the last decade.”
Other forces have contributed to this spike in deaths as well. One expert cited by the Times attributed the “silent epidemic” of pedestrian fatalities to aging populations, Sun Belt cities not designed with pedestrian safety in mind, and the ever increasing size of dangerous vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks. “Now, about three out of four new vehicles are pickup trucks, vans or SUVs… “Cars are getting bigger, faster and deadlier,” said the expert, Angie Schmitt, who wrote a book about pedestrian fatalities.
Another expert, Mark Hallenbeck at the Washington State Transportation Center, suggested that safety features in passenger vehicles—cameras and lane-departure alerts, for instance—might counterintuitively cause some drivers to be less vigilant. “There’s a portion of the population that is incredibly frustrated, enraged, and some of that behavior shows up in their driving,” he said.
For more information about the rise in reckless driving across the United States—with deadly effects for pedestrians—visit the New York Times’ report here.