Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
A troubling trend that's getting worse.
Traffic fatalities in the U.S. have been on a steady decline for nearly a decade, the result of safer cars, (hopefully) safer driver behavior, and laws that enforce seat belt use and crack down on hazards like drunken driving. But even in the midst of that big-picture trend, a small subset of this same data has lately been worrisome: Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have actually been rising. And compared against national traffic statistics, as riding in cars has gotten safer, this means that pedestrians have grown to represent a larger share of all traffic fatalities in the U.S.
In 2011, pedestrians made up 14 percent of those traffic fatalities, up from 11 percent a decade ago.
According to the latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, this suggests a pedestrian is killed in America in a traffic crash every two hours, and injured every eight minutes. Twenty-one percent of children aged 10-15 who die in traffic crashes actually weren't in the car – they were pedestrians.
Citing this data, new Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx unveiled a federal initiative today with a little grant money behind it to try to roll back the rise in pedestrian fatalities (perhaps pedestrian safety will be to Anthony Foxx what distracted driving was to Ray LaHood?). The messaging campaign is built around a line that alternative transportation advocates will find familiar: Whether you drive a car, ride the train, or bike to work, at some point everyone is a pedestrian.
As for the money part: The DOT is offering $2 million in new grant money for 22 cities with pedestrian-fatality records worse than the national average to try out new education and enforcement initiatives. That's not a lot of money to divide many ways. But new federal initiatives with dollars attached are certainly better than PSA campaigns alone.
For some perspective, here is what the trajectory of total traffic fatalities has looked like since 2002, using NHTSA data:
Over the same period of time, here are the pedestrian fatalities:
And the result of those two trends combined: