The Surprising Facts Behind Fatal Pedestrian Accidents

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Pedestrian deaths have risen in recent years, but dig into the facts and there is news some might consider good.

Overall, vehicle-related fatalities have risen slightly in past years after decades of declines. However, fatalities inside vehicles have not risen. Like motorcycle and bicycle-related roadway deaths, pedestrian deaths are an important part of why the overall roadway death toll has increased in America in the past decade. Also like bicycle and motorcycle deaths, the pedestrians being hit are not randomly distributed among age and gender. Nor are the locations and timing of these pedestrian deaths random. Those being hit and the circumstances of the accidents fall into very specific categories which may surprise some parents.

RELATED: Bicycle-Vehicle Deaths Show Unexpected Trend

Roadway Pedestrian Deaths – Age and Gender (It’s An Adult Male Thing)

The overall death rate among pedestrians is down dramatically since 1975 when accurate records began. NHTSA data and an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that the rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people decreased a whopping 51 percent from 1975 to 2015. The biggest declines when population factors are considered are in the older community.

Perhaps the best news is that those being hit in modern America are not children for the most part. In 1975, a time with a much lower overall population and a far lower number of average miles driven per year, 1,632 pedestrian children under the age of 13 died. In the most recent year data is available that number had dropped to just 186 children. Teenager deaths showed a similarly dramatic decline. In 1975, 796 teenage pedestrians were killed, and in 2015, that number had declined to just 270.

Like with bicycle-related deaths, children are killed by cars at a small fraction of what was the norm forty years ago. The deaths among “prime” aged individuals from 20-69 years of age bucks the trend and has increased every year since 2008.  When population numbers are factored in, the prime aged population rate of pedestrian deaths is relatively steady compared to other age groups. With regard to gender, the evidence shows that most of those killed are male. This has been the one constant over time. In 1975, 69% of pedestrians killed were male, and in 2015, 70% are male.

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Pedestrian Deaths – Time and Place

The first statistic that jumps out at anyone digging into pedestrian deaths is that most are occurring at night. Fully 70% of the pedestrians killed on America’s roadways meet their fate in the hours between 6 pm and 6 am. Another hint as to the underlying cause of many of these deaths is the day of the week they occur. More pedestrians are killed on Friday and Saturday (nights) than at any other time of the week. These aren’t commuters being hit.

They aren’t folks living in the boonies either. As one might expect, urban areas are where most pedestrian deaths occur. Seventy-six percent of pedestrian deaths in 2015 occurred in urban areas, a 17% increase from 1975.

One interesting fact about exactly where pedestrians are hit by cars is the roadway location in which the accident occurs. Only 26% of fatal pedestrian accidents happen at intersections. Counter to the mental image of pedestrians being run down in crowded city centers, the highest number of pedestrian deaths occurs on roads with a speed limit of 55 MPH or higher.

In city centers, the speed limit is almost always 35 MPH or lower. How many many Americans died on roadways with a speed limit of 35 MPH or lower? Less than one out of five.

Pedestrian Deaths and Alcohol

It is easy to assume that the drivers of the cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles that strike pedestrians are to blame for pedestrian deaths. After all, “pedestrians have the right of way” is a mantra we have all grown up with. But is it always the case? As it turns out, about half of the pedestrians killed at night are drunk, having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. A quarter of pedestrians killed during daylight hours are drunk.

In total, slightly more than a third of those killed while walking are legally drunk.

Pedestrian Deaths – Help Is On The Way

Federal rules on how the fronts of cars must be constructed have had a positive effect on pedestrian deaths and injuries. More help is on the way in the form of active safety. Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota have all committed to making all trims of all their mainstream models with automatic emergency braking in 2018. Most other automakers are already offering the technology as an option and will standardize on it by 2022. Increasingly, pedestrian detection is being included in the suite of active safety measures.