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In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic was one of the immediate things that had an impact. Roads were deserted overnight. But instead of fewer cars meaning little to no car collisions, they actually became deadlier as speeding increased.
A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association reportedly found that the pedestrian fatality rate rose 22% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier. The reason was attributed to “speeding, distracted and impaired driving, and other dangerous driving behaviors [that] increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Moreover, this year, for the first time, the GHSA also broke out data by race, and found Black, Native American and Hispanic people were substantially overrepresented in pedestrian deaths, compared with their proportion of the overall population. “This reinforces the need for racial equity to be a centerpiece of comprehensive pedestrian safety action plans,” the report said.
In 2019, 6,301 pedestrians were reportedly killed by vehicles on American streets — up 46% from 2010. Over the same timespan, the total for all traffic deaths rose by 5%. Compared with the number of miles driven, the rate of pedestrians struck and killed soared by 20%, putting 2020 on track for the largest one-year increase in the death rate ever. At the same time, driving nationwide was down 16.5 % due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The trend of people of color being disproportionately represented in pedestrian deaths predates the pandemic. Naomi Doerner, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at transportation consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard spoke to NPR about the disparities of the pandemic affected pedestrian vulnerability, too. “A lot of people who could not stay home are essential workers,” she said. “A lot of those workers are comprised of people of color … and we know that a lot of those folks are transit riders, pedestrians or bike riders.”
As aforementioned, speed undoubtedly plays a factor in that spike. But other factors predate the coronavirus and have contributed to pedestrian deaths for years now. Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations at the GHSA, told NPR that the lack of infrastructure and “the safety of the vehicles that are out there on the roads” also play a role.
Other findings about pedestrian fatalities included:
And though the national report only covers the first half of last year,the group warned, “If this troubling pattern continue[d] for the second half of the year as many traffic safety experts fear, 2020 is projected to have the largest ever annual increase in the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per mile driven.”
“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 executive director, reportedly said in a statement. “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 — like speeding, distraction and impairment — that pose the greatest threats to non-motorized road users.”