It is the highest number in more than three decades, the report said, and underscores a historic reversal that has deeply disturbed safety experts.
“Pedestrian deaths were declining for 30 years and then in 2009, a complete reversal of progress became evident,” said Richard Retting, director of safety and research for Sam Schwartz Engineering, who wrote the report for the group, which represents state safety officials.
The report pointed to a host of long-established and other likely contributors to the grim tally, which has seen the number of pedestrian deaths in the United States rise from a rate of 1.3 per 100,000 people in 2009 to an estimated rate of 2.0 in 2019.
Among them: Cellphone use has soared, distracting drivers; Americans have moved toward heavier, less forgiving SUVs; drivers and pedestrians are too often intoxicated; many roads were designed with cars, not people, in mind; and walking in the dark has become increasingly deadly, according to the report.
“Increases in pedestrian fatalities are occurring largely at night,” the report said, noting that nighttime deaths shot up 67 percent from 2009 to 2018. Deaths occurring during the day were up 16 percent in that period. Now, about three-quarters of all pedestrian deaths happen when it is dark out.
That trend “suggests a need to prioritize engineering and enforcement countermeasures,” the report said, including better street lighting and more nighttime patrols.
Most pedestrians were killed away from intersections, the report notes, adding that cutting speeding can help. At busy crossings, adding flashing beacons and “pedestrian refuge islands” would make things safer. So, too, would reducing impairment, the report said.
“An estimated 33% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a pedestrian with a [blood alcohol concentration] of 0.08% or higher, and an estimated 16% of drivers involved in these crashes had a BAC of 0.08% or higher,” the report said. “Pedestrian safety can be addressed by conducting high-visibility impaired driving enforcement in areas with robust nighttime pedestrian activity.”
In 2018, the last full year detailed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were available, pedestrians accounted for 17 percent of all road deaths, up from 12 percent in 2009, according to the report. In all, 36,560 people died on the road in 2018, according to NHTSA data.