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U.S.: Why pedestrian deaths have surged by more than 70% since 2010

By Lee Cleveland - April 30, 2023

Pedestrian deaths have surged by more than 70% in the United States since 2010, with trucks playing a key role in the increase, according to safe-streets advocates.

According to federal crash data compiled by The Hill, vehicles hit and killed 7,388 pedestrians in 2021, compared to 4,302 in 2010. This represents a more than 70% increase in pedestrian deaths on American roads in just over a decade.

And the number of pedestrians killed by light utility trucks rose from 732 to 1,773 between 2010 and 2021, according to data compiled by The Hill via the Governors Highway Safety Association.

In 2010, cars and trucks were bought and leased in roughly equal numbers in the US. By 2021, almost 80% of sales and leases were trucks. Automakers favor trucks because they bring higher profit margins. Of course, pedestrians are more likely to die if struck by a truck than by a car because trucks are heavier and tend to strike pedestrians in the head, neck, or chest.

“You think of a typical F-150 now, and it’s six feet tall,” said Nick Ferenchak, assistant professor and director of the Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety at the University of New Mexico.  

Trucks now outnumber cars in every state. And American trucks have grown “bigger, heavier and more tricked out,” according to an Axios report.  

“There’s this race to the bottom of people buying more large cars because they want to feel safer around all of the other large cars,” said Rebecca Sanders, founder of Safe Streets Research & Consulting, a crash analysis firm. “We are ever more vulnerable, ever more at risk, from these larger vehicles.” 

Stat: A United Nations UNECE report shows that the United States had more pedestrian deaths in 2019 than any other nation by a nearly 5-to-1 margin. (The analysis did not include China or India.) 

In addition to policy changes, experts say there are other steps individuals can take to increase pedestrian safety. Cyclists and pedestrians should wear reflective clothing and use lights at night to increase their visibility to drivers. Pedestrians should also make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street, and never assume that a driver sees them.

“People think that if they can see the car, then the car can see them,” McLeod said. “But that’s not true. A driver could be distracted or just not looking in your direction.”

Ultimately, making streets safer for all users requires a cultural shift in the way we think about transportation. For too long, American cities and suburbs have been designed primarily around the car, with little regard for the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. If we want to reverse the rising tide of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, we need to prioritize their safety and make changes accordingly.