Black Pedestrians Killed at Higher Rates as Traffic Deaths Rise

  • Deaths rise even as less pandemic driving, report finds
  • New Mexico, Florida are among states with most fatalities

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More pedestrians were killed across the US even as fewer cars took to the roads in the first year of the pandemic, a report released Tuesday found.

“Danger is increasing everywhere,” said Beth Osborne, vice president of transportation and thriving communities at nonprofit Smart Growth America. “The burden of this danger is being disproportionately felt by Black and Native Americans.”

Black pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed than white people, and Native Americans are about three times as likely to be killed. People in low-income neighborhoods were also killed at much higher rates, according to the 2022 Dangerous by Design report by Smart Growth America. Pedestrian deaths are up 62% since 2009, and low-income communities are less likely to have sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and access to parks, the group found.

The findings increase pressure on the Biden administration to take further action to prevent rising road deaths, particularly among people of color. The administration has touted safety and equity initiatives in infrastructure among its top priorities.

“There’s not enough federal focus on safety,” Osborne said. “Safety is seen as a side project.”

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A traffic signal tells pedestrians to wait at a crosswalk near the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 17, 2008. Pedestrian fatalities have been rising, a new report shows.

The report calls for more action from the federal government and Congress, including for the Transportation Department to update design standards to “stop prioritizing vehicle speed over safety,” and use the $200 billion in discretionary grants from the infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) for safety. It also urges lawmakers to fully appropriate spending for programs created by the law that would help reduce rising pedestrian deaths, including the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program — which would provide money for walking and biking infrastructure.

“If Congress truly cares about safety, they will not wait five more years until the next transportation authorization is due to make changes to the federal transportation program as a whole to ensure there is no flexibility to undercut or underfund clearly needed safety improvements,” the report said.

More than 80 metro areas’ average fatality rate worsened from 2016 to 2020, compared with the previous five years. Lower-income neighborhoods saw triple the pedestrian fatality rates than communities with a $93,100 to $250,000 median income. New Mexico, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Georgia and California were the top 10 deadliest states, the group found.

The report uses only final crash data through 2020, but early 2021 estimates are “jaw-dropping,” it found. Roughly 43,000 people died in crashes last year, the most since 2005, early federal data estimate. The Governors Highway Safety Association recently estimated that drivers in 2021 killed the most pedestrians in 40 years.

The Transportation Department unveiled a plan earlier this year aimed at preventing the rising road deaths. The department said it planned to push to re-engineer roads to slow down vehicles, add speed safety cameras, and set better speed limits.

Read More: America’s Most Dangerous Roads for Pedestrians
Slower Roads, Better Brakes Planned to Fight Road Deaths
Why ‘Vision Zero’ Hit a Wall

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at; Anna Yukhananov at

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