Over the past decade, US streets have gotten safer for those driving or riding in motor vehicles. Yet these safety improvements have come at a cost. While the roads are safer for those in cars, they are much more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s traffic crash injury data for 2020 reveals that 2020 saw a record number of deaths among pedestrians and bicyclists on US roads. In 2020, 6,516 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes, and 938 bicyclists lost their lives.
These numbers are about 4 percent higher than the death rates in 2019 – even though the total number of vehicle miles traveled in 2020 decreased by 12 percent. In other words, even though fewer vehicles were on the roads, more pedestrians and bicyclists died in traffic accidents.
Pedestrians and Bicyclists Face Higher Risks Than Motorists
Bicyclists and pedestrians were also statistically more likely to suffer death than people engaged in other uses of streets and roads. For example, in 2020:
- While 10.5 percent of trips were walked in 2020, 16 percent of traffic crash deaths were suffered by pedestrians.
- While 1 percent of trips were biked in 2020, 2.4 percent of traffic crash deaths were suffered by bicyclists.
These numbers indicate that walking and bicycling place people at a higher risk of death and serious injury than driving or riding in a vehicle, even though all three groups use the same public streets under the same weather and lighting conditions.
Pedestrian and Bicyclist Death Rates in Chicago and Nationwide
The rates of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths varied by state. In 2020, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Mississippi reported the highest rates of pedestrian deaths. Illinois had a rate of about 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people, slightly lower than the national average.
However, Chicago ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the US for pedestrians, with 2.02 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people. This number makes Chicago more deadly for pedestrians and bicyclists than the national average for large cities.
What Factors Increase the Risk to Pedestrians and Bicyclists?
Several factors contribute to the high risk of serious injury and death to bicyclists and pedestrians. These factors include:
- Poorly maintained or designed roads. Faded crosswalks, broken or missing traffic signals, and a lack or breakdown of other pedestrian safety measures make it more difficult for pedestrians to navigate safely – and for drivers to realize when they need to pay attention.
- Unsafe roadway design and land use. Areas with few crosswalks, many driveways, and broken or outdated signal equipment all saw higher rates of death and serious injury than areas with better roadway design and land use planning.
- Poor lighting or visibility. About 77 percent of pedestrian deaths occur after sunset in areas with poor or no lighting. The NHTSA noted that “not being visible to drivers’ was commonly reported in pedestrian and bicyclist accidents. Yet even when pedestrians or bicyclists took steps to make themselves visible, they could also be at risk of a crash.
- Motorists fail to follow traffic laws. Failure to obey traffic laws is a common note in police reports related to bicyclist and pedestrian deaths and injuries. These reports often state that a driver didn’t yield the right of way to a pedestrian or bicyclist.
- Drunk driving continues to threaten safety. Alcohol or drug use was cited as a factor in 10.5 percent of pedestrian deaths and 5.7 percent of cyclist deaths. NHTSA data does not, however, indicate which parties were under the influence at the time of the crash. Nevertheless, impairment from drugs or alcohol likely decreases a driver’s ability to pay attention, spot pedestrians or bicyclists, or control a vehicle well enough to prevent an accident.
NHTSA notes that better infrastructure can help both drivers and others on the road avoid deadly accidents. Better sidewalks, bike lanes, signs, and signals can all help control traffic to avoid collisions.
Efforts to improve community health, economic activity, and environmental quality all focus on the importance of encouraging walking and bicycling. Communities that fail to build safe infrastructure and to educate drivers on the importance of sharing the road safely, however, continue to put pedestrians and bicyclists and risk – undermining their own attempts to encourage these alternative modes of transportation.
If you’ve been injured while walking or bicycling, don’t wait: Contact the experienced injury attorneys at Briskman, Briskman & Greenberg today for a free and confidential consultation.