The number of pedestrians who were struck and killed by vehicles in 2022 was the highest it’s been since 1981, according to a report based on state government data.
At least 7,508 people who were out walking were struck and killed in the United States last year, said the report, published on Friday by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents states’ safety offices. The report used preliminary data from government agencies in 49 states and Washington, D.C. (Oklahoma had incomplete data because of a technical issue and was the only state to not provide data, the association said.)
The findings for 2022, and an accompanying analysis of federal government data from 2021, showed that pedestrian deaths in the United States have continued to rise over the last decade.
From 2010 to 2021, pedestrian deaths increased from 4,302 to 7,624, a 77 percent rise, according to the federal data. In the same period, other types of traffic fatalities increased by 25 percent.
The report identified several factors that could have contributed to this increase, including more risky driving during the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of awareness and enforcement of laws meant to keep pedestrians safe.
“This is a real crisis that’s sort of flown under the radar,” said Angie Schmitt, the author of “Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America.”
The United States is a global outlier in roadway deaths. In recent years, other comparable developed countries have done more to reduce pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist deaths, researchers say. Those safety measures have included lowering speed limits, building more protected bike lanes and requiring vehicle design safety measures that better protect people outside of a vehicle.
The report’s analysis of pedestrian deaths in 2021 used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is not directly comparable to the state data sets because they use different criteria for pedestrian deaths. Some states, for example, may include deaths that occurred 30 days after the crash in their count, while the federal government numbers do not.
The federal data included specific information about crashes, such as light conditions, driving speeds and road types. It did not include other data that researchers say could be useful for studying crashes, such as if the victim was homeless or the driver was texting.
In 2021, most pedestrian deaths happened after dark and on roads where there were no sidewalks; a passenger car was the striking vehicle in 35 percent of deaths; and an S.U.V. or pickup was the striking vehicle in 40 percent of deaths, the report said.
People of color are typically overrepresented in pedestrian fatalities, but the 2021 data on race and ethnicity in these crashes was not included because of delays in processing death certificates.
Ms. Schmitt said that the number of pedestrian deaths has been steadily increasing since about 2009. The increase in deaths reflects changes to the nature of the suburbs, where more people are walking in neighborhoods designed for cars, as well as the impact of an aging population, since older people can be more vulnerable to accidents and the resulting injuries, she said. Most importantly, she added, there has been an increase in the number of sport utility vehicles and large pickup trucks on the road.
Ms. Schmitt’s book about pedestrian deaths was published in 2020 and she expected safety to improve. Instead, during the coronavirus pandemic, roads became less safe. She attributed that to less enforcement and more aggressive driving.
To curb the increase in risk for pedestrians, Ms. Schmitt said that roads need to be designed better, with more sidewalks and street lighting. She said pedestrian safety needs to be considered as well in vehicle design.
The Governors Highway Safety Association said that the increase in pedestrian deaths could be stopped by improving infrastructure, lowering driving speeds and focusing traffic enforcement on people who are speeding or practicing other dangerous driving behaviors, such as driving while distracted or impaired.