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Why Did Pedestrian Deaths Increase in 2020?

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Preliminary data suggests that the pedestrian death rate rose by 20% in the first 6 months of 2020. The statistics are especially shocking because the number of vehicle miles traveled declined by 16.5% during the same period due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Coverage from USA Today explores the troubling data and discusses the factors at play in the pedestrian safety crisis plaguing the United States:

Large Trucks and SUVs

Pedestrian accidents accounted for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019, and pedestrian fatalities have gone up by 46% since 2009. A Detroit Free Press/USA Today Network investigation argues that the SUV revolution is a key reason for this upsetting increase.

With higher front-end profiles, SUVs are at least twice as likely as cars to kill pedestrians. Federal safety regulators have known this for years, but they have not publicized the danger nor taken preventative action. Meanwhile, automakers have opposed efforts to factor pedestrians into vehicle safety ratings, and SUVs account for 60% of new vehicle sales.

Distracted Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” In 2019, distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives, and many of those lives were pedestrians.

When drivers are talking or texting on their phone, eating or drinking, or even having an argument with their passenger, they are not watching for pedestrians – and the results can be deadly.


According to the NHTSA, speeding has been involved in approximately 1/3 of all motor vehicle fatalities for more than 2 decades. The faster a vehicle is going, the more time it takes to stop and the more damage it will inflict on a pedestrian.

By the time a driver sees a pedestrian crossing the street – or vice versa – it may be too late. This is especially true when visibility is reduced at night or because of poor weather conditions.

Driving Under the Influence

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

Almost half (47%) of crashes that resulted in a pedestrian death involved alcohol for the driver and/or the pedestrian.”

While walking after having a few beers is not illegal, drinking and driving is a dangerous crime. Impaired pedestrians may behave unexpectedly, and their actions may put them in danger, but they will not harm anyone else. On the other hand, drunk drivers put everyone on the road at risk, including pedestrians. Drunk drivers may not see or respond to pedestrians, even those who are crossing the street at a crosswalk and adhering to all applicable laws and safety advice.

Drug and alcohol use and abuse are major contributors in car and pedestrian accidents, and the safest way to get home after drinking is not walking. Instead, designate a driver, hail a taxi or rideshare vehicle, or take public transit.


Pedestrian fatalities happen within urban environments, and they affect minorities at a disproportionate rate. Problems with infrastructure are another huge factor in pedestrian deaths, and the city can be held accountable for especially egregious design errors.

For example, if pedestrians keep getting hurt in a busy intersection, and the city fails to install a crosswalk or implement other safety measures, the city can be held accountable for future pedestrian accidents and deaths. Similarly, areas that are not well lit may be unsafe for pedestrians, as the majority of fatal pedestrian crashes occur at night and away from intersections.

Who Is to Blame?

Everything from vehicle design to the way the roads are built can influence pedestrian accidents, but liability ultimately lies with the at-fault driver. If someone harms you while you are walking or crossing the road, you can hold them accountable via a personal injury lawsuit. Because these lawsuits can include multiple defendants, you may be able to implicate those responsible for poor vehicle and road design, as well.

In any case, determining who is to blame requires a trusted legal team. At Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., we have more than 140 years of combined experience and a long tradition of prioritizing our clients.

We offer personalized service and aggressive representation in a small number of practice areas, so we can fight for your rights and the results you need.

If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a pedestrian accident, please call us at (603) 288-1403 or contact us online today.