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Pedestrian deaths on a surprising uptick in 2020

Time and time again, concerns arise regarding pedestrian deaths. Sadly and alarmingly, the number of fatalities continues to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic when fewer motor vehicles were on U.S. roads.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), pedestrian deaths climbed by 21% in 2020 compared with the previous year. That number represented the biggest annual increase since the country began collecting such data in the mid-1970s.

Twenty-one percent increase from 2019

Final data has yet to be completed, but the projected number of pedestrians killed by drivers is expected to increase by 5% to 6,721 compared with the 6,412 pedestrian deaths in 2019. The GHSA report was released on May 20.

Transportation and statistical experts remain befuddled by the uptick in pedestrian accidents, especially because traffic slowed to a trickle as many workers no longer commuted and, instead, worked from home. However, one theory from first responders seems to stand out: Wide-open roads entice reckless and irresponsible drivers to travel at excessive speeds.

Pedestrian deaths most often occur on busy streets that have numerous businesses such as post offices and grocery stores. At such intersections, it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the street, especially when drivers fail to yield.

Other factors that have led to more pedestrian deaths include:

  • Distraction: This is no surprise here. The growing use of smartphones during the past two decades has led to both drivers and pedestrians using such devices to text, talk and play games while not paying attention to their surroundings.
  • Alcohol use: This remains an ongoing problem. Complete data regarding pedestrian fatalities involving alcohol should arrive later in the year. However, statistics from 2019 showed that alcohol played a factor in half of the accidents in which a pedestrian died.

GHSA statistics show a slight decrease in pedestrian fatalities in West Virginia during the first half of 2019 compared with the first half of 2020. From January to June 2019, a total of 12 pedestrian deaths were recorded. From January to June 2020, projections for pedestrian deaths are 11.

Pedestrians always must stay alert walking the sidewalks and crossing streets. However, even that alertness may not help when confronted with a distracted, reckless, negligent or drunk person behind the wheel of a vehicle.

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