A new study shows how dangerous U.S. roads can be: every day, 20 people walk outside and end up killed by a moving vehicle. "There are more pedestrians being killed today than in decades," Russ Martin of the Governors Highway Safety Association told NPR. The organization estimates that more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed by drivers last year, the highest number since 1981. The final tally may be even greater given that Oklahoma was unable to provide data. Pedestrian deaths have been climbing since 2010 because of unsafe infrastructure and the prevalence of SUVs, which tend to be more deadly for pedestrians than smaller cars. When the pandemic arrived, there was an even greater surge as empty roads gave way to speeding and distracted driving. The pandemic has waned, but cases of reckless driving, and subsequently the number of peoplr killed while walking, have not. The new data show that the U.S. continues to lag in its effort to improve road safety, even as experts say some solutions are within reach.
For the seventh year in a row, New Mexico was ranked as the most dangerous state for pedestrians. Arizona and Florida were also placed in the top spots for having high rates of pedestrian deaths. It is not a coincidence that all three states are situated below the Sun Belt. Martin said Southern states tend to see more traffic deaths but it is not clear why. There are multiple theories: in bigger states, communities are more spread out and as a result, people need to drive more to get around, he said. Another possibility is that Southern states have better weather and people spend more time outside. While traffic safety has been an uphill battle for years, there are strategies at lawmakers' disposal to address the crisis, says Peter Norton, a professor at the University of Virginia who has studied the history of driving. For instance, implementing sharp corners instead of round curves at the end of roads forces drivers to slow down to turn and prevents speeding. That technique, along with adding pedestrian islands and large sidewalk bulb-outs, is known as "traffic calming." Norton said installing speeding and red light cameras can also be effective if they work properly. Adding bike lanes can also keep drivers more alert on the road.