No National Progress in Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities
2017 Marks 2nd Year of 25-Year High Level of Deaths
February 28, 2018

Kara Macek
Governors Highway Safety Association

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projects nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the US in 2017, marking the second year in a row at numbers not seen in 25 years.

GHSA's annual Spotlight on Highway Safety provides the first glimpse at state and national trends in pedestrian traffic fatalities for 2017, using preliminary data provided by the highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting analyzed the data and authored the report.

"Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community. These high levels are no longer a blip but unfortunately a sustained trend," GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins explains. "We can't afford to let this be the new normal."

States reported a total of 2,636 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017. Adjusting the raw data based on past data trends, GHSA projects that pedestrian deaths in 2017 will total 5,984, essentially unchanged from 2016, in which 5,987 people on foot lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes. Pedestrians now account for approximately 16% of all motor vehicle deaths, compared with 11% just a few years ago.

Two recent trends present an interesting correlation with rising pedestrian fatalities: the growth in smartphone use nationally and the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states. While the report does not find or imply a definitive link between these factors and pedestrian deaths, it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot.

The reported number of smartphones in active use in the US increased 236% from 2010 to 2016, and the number of cell phone-related emergency room visits is increasing as the devices before more prevalent in daily life.

The seven states and D.C. that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 experienced a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017, while all other states saw a combined 5.8% decrease.

As report author Retting notes, "This preliminary 2017 data is the first opportunity to look at marijuana-impairment as a possible contributing factor in pedestrian deaths, given the recent law changes. It's critical to use this early data to look for potential warning signs."

In addition to looking at pedestrian fatality crash characteristics, the report also discusses promising strategies to reduce pedestrian and motor vehicle crashes through a combination of engineering, education and enforcement efforts. It also outlines specific examples from 41 states such as: training law enforcement officers to understand and enforce laws aimed to protect pedestrians; collaboration between State Highway Safety Offices and state DOTs; and policy changes to prioritize safety for all road users, regardless of mode.

Kara Macek is Senior Director of Communications and Programs at GHSA