Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Low gas prices may have also reversed a recent decline in total traffic fatalities.
Health benefits aside, it’s not exactly safe to be a pedestrian. A new report by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association estimates that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic increased 10 percent from 2014 to 2015 in the U.S.
That number, based on preliminary data reported by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is in line with a longer-term trend: From 2009 to 2014, pedestrian fatalities increased by 19 percent, even as total traffic deaths declined over that same period. Now people killed while walking represent 15 percent of total traffic deaths, the most common such deaths have been in 25 years, according to the GHSA report.
Cheap gas prices, population growth, and a rebounding economy are all likely drivers in this worrying trend. Total vehicle miles driven in the U.S. surged to 3.148 trillion in 2015, up from the previous year. Distracted driving and distracted walking don’t help either.
Last year may have also marked a reversal in the overall downward trend of nationwide traffic fatalities. In November 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that the partial-year estimate of the number of deaths in motor vehicle crashes—combining drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians—was up 8.1 percent from the same period in 2014. That figure was recently echoed by the National Safety Council. The NHTSA has yet to release their end-of-year calculations, which will clarify which direction traffic fatalities are headed.
Either way, “These numbers are a call to action,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in November. “Everyone with a responsibility for road safety—the federal, State and local governments, law enforcement, vehicle manufacturers, safety advocates, and road users—needs to reassess our efforts to combat threats to safety.”