What Makes a Road Dangerous for Pedestrians?

Almost 4,300 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2010, and an additional 70,000 were injured, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This averages out to one pedestrian death every 120 minutes and a pedestrian injury every 8 minutes. According to Smart Growth America, more than 47,000 pedestrians were killed between 2003 and 2012—16 times the number of Americans killed by natural disasters in the same time span.

And unfortunately, the number of pedestrian fatalities is not moving in the right direction. Pedestrians made up nearly 15 percent of all traffic deaths in 2012—a five-year high and an increase of 6 percent from 2011.

There are a variety of road conditions that can increase the risk of pedestrian injury or death, including:

Alcohol impairment

Of all traffic crashes that result in pedestrian death, almost half involved either an intoxicated driver or an intoxicated pedestrian. One-third of pedestrians involved in fatal accidents had a blood alcohol concentration above .08.

High speeds

More than 60 percent of pedestrian deaths occur on roads with speed limits of 40 miles per hour or higher. The faster a driver is traveling, the less time he or she will have to react to the pedestrian in the roadway, and with each additional mile per hour, the likelihood of serious injury or death increases.

Poor road design

Dangerous By Design, a report from Smart Growth America examined the rate of pedestrian deaths in certain cities and the infrastructure that contributes to higher or lower rates. The study found that pedestrian deaths are most common in southern and southwestern states that developed in the post-war era.

“These areas developed rapidly, with many low-density neighborhoods overly dependent on extra wide, fast arterials to connect homes, schools, jobs, and shops,” the report states. “Such roads rarely feature the facilities needed for safe travel by foot.”

The majority of pedestrian deaths happen on the aforementioned “arterial roads,” meaning high-volume (and high-capacity) roads through urban areas that typically feed into the freeway system.

Poor lighting

Unsurprisingly, lack of visibility has a severe effect on pedestrian safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pedestrian deaths are more common during nighttime hours than during the day, more common in urban areas, and more common in non-intersection locations.

In a 2012 study, the CDC reported that walking is the No. 1 exercise activity in the country. With such a large number of Americans walking to work, walking to school, and walking for fun, it is crucial to keep pedestrians safe.

Older Americans are at a significantly increased risk of pedestrian death; men and women older than 65 account for almost 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities but only 12.6 percent of the population.

According to the Smart Growth America study, the most dangerous U.S. cities for pedestrians are:

  • Orlando
  • Tampa
  • Jacksonville
  • Miami
  • Memphis
  • Phoenix
  • Houston
  • Birmingham
  • Atlanta
  • Charlotte

Learn more about pedestrian safety and how you can help keep the roadways safe on the National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration website.