Home » Here’s What Happened To U.S. Roadway Fatalities After The Pandemic Hit, Per The U.S. Government

Here’s What Happened To U.S. Roadway Fatalities After The Pandemic Hit, Per The U.S. Government

Pedestrian Crossing

If you’ve recently wondering if everyone forgot how to drive during the pandemic, there’s a chance you’re not going crazy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published its early report of 2021 road fatalities and the numbers really aren’t pretty. Last year, 42,915 American road users lost their lives. That’s that highest figure in 16 years, and more than 117 people per day, roughly 4.9 people per hour, or one person every twelve minutes — a little bit terrifying when you think of it. While this fatality rate of 1.33 per 100 million miles traveled is a drop compared to 2020’s figure of 1.34, it’s up significantly from 2019’s pre-pandemic figure of 1.10. So how are all these people dying? Are there significantly more reckless speeders on the road? Are fatal DUI crashes increasing at an alarming rate? While those are contributing factors, the bulk reality is much less headline-grabbing.

Out of the 42,915 people killed on the roads last year, 21,837 were drivers, up 12 percent from last year. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as fatal multi-vehicle crashes are up 16 percent year-over-year from 17,083 to 19,777. Hey, since nobody was on the road in 2020, who on earth were drivers going to hit? Well, a lot if I’m being honest. While overall distance driven was down in 2020, fatalities were up over 2019 by 2,279. In fact, 2020 was the deadliest year on American roads since 2007. NHTSA blames an increase in risky driving for this jump in fatalities, with 45 percent of 2020 fatalities involving speeding, intoxication, or lack of seat belt use. Couple risky behavior with an increase in miles driven, and it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the death count rose for 2021.

Interstate 10
Photo credit: squeaks2569 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Speaking of risky behavior, the proportion of fatal crashes where intoxication was a factor rose 16 percent from 2019 to 2020, then another 5 percent in 2021. If there’s any silver lining, intoxicated fatalities fell towards the end of 2021. Hopefully people will continue to make better decisions and we’ll see fewer intoxicated road deaths this year.

Another driving habit affecting fatal crashes is speeding. Last year, 11,780 fatalities were related to speeding. That’s 27.45 percent of all fatal crashes, 522 more fatalities than last year when speeding-related fatalities made up 28.99 percent of all fatal crashes, and 2,188 more than in 2019, when speeding-related fatalities made up 26.38 percent of all fatal crashes. Honestly, I expected this year’s number to be higher given how more people are driving more often than in 2020. Plus, a 2016 AAA report found that 48 percent of Americans reported going 15 mph over the speed limit in the month before the survey and roughly 45 percent admitted to going 10 mph above the speed limit on a residential street in the month before the survey. A similar report in 2020 found that 51 percent of drivers who increased their time on the roads in 2020 admitted to driving 10 mph above the speed limit on a residential street in the month before the survey. I guess those empty roads filled back up really quickly.

Seattle Street
Photo credit: Wonderlane. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Next to drivers, fatalities involving pedestrians and large trucks are way, way up by 13 percent each. 7,432 pedestrians died on American roads last year, while 5,601 Americans died in collisions with large trucks. In 2019, the last year of normal pre-pandemic traffic, those figures were 6,272 and 5,032 respectively. With large trucks, the solution is often easy – give them a wide berth. It’s no secret that trucks have enormous blind spots and long stopping distances. The more room around trucks, the better.

As for pedestrians, that’s a tougher one to answer. On the one hand, I love cars. There’s something so wonderful about driving through the city at night, and I wouldn’t try to tote home a coffee table on public transit because I’d look like a complete asshole. On the other hand, I’m more often a pedestrian than a driver. What can I say, living in a walkable community is awesome.

Let’s start with the easiest thing to change and run through to the hardest. First up, the rise of SUVs. By now, it’s well-established that SUVs pose a greater risk to pedestrians than cars do. In 2018, the Detroit Free Press did some digging and found a 2015 NHTSA report that found SUVs and light trucks to be two to three times deadlier to pedestrians than cars. A small study run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that fatal crashes between SUVs and pedestrians increased by 81 percent between 2009 and 2016 and found that even modern SUVs with deformable bumpers are significantly deadlier to pedestrians than cars are. Another IIHS study found that SUVs are 63 percent more likely than cars to hit pedestrians while turning.

A Lexus GX 460 turning across a crossing for pedestrians
Photo credit: IIHS

At this point it’s really hard to argue that SUVs aren’t killing people, yet the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy program is enabling manufacturers to keep cranking out SUVs. So how do we fix this? Well, a light truck charge to enter urban centers in an SUV or pickup truck would be great. There’s no need to ban large vehicles, but a gentle stick to encourage urban use for things like hauling furniture would keep casually-driven light trucks out of pedestrian-dense downtown cores. Make it tax-deductible so light commercial vehicles aren’t screwed over and bam. Of course, it would be absolutely hilarious to set up height restrictors at the entrances to nightclub districts and other pedestrian-heavy areas, but that might be a bit barbaric. Another way to fix this would be by relaxing the footprint model implemented in 2011 that heavily incentivized SUV production. It seems absurd that small cars should be held to much higher fuel economy targets when they’re already easier on the environment than large vehicles. As a bonus, they’re cheap to buy, cheap to run and kinder to pedestrians than light trucks.

[Editor’s Note: There’s been a lot of chatter around Twitter and various media publications calling for a ban on SUVs. I’m not for that at all. As someone who grew up in Germany, I love walkable cities, but an SUV ban infringes upon freedom of choice, plus it’s a slippery slope and it’s hard to enforce; it’s also just a lazy approach. I’m all for challenging automakers to improve pedestrian protection across all vehicles, perhaps to the point where only certain designs require specific pedpro countermeasures. “Ban SUVs,” though? I’m not about it. -DT] 

Next, let’s look at pedestrian behavior. Just as the choices of SUV drivers increase pedestrian fatalities, so do the choices of pedestrians. An aggregation of NHTSA data shows that between 2010 and 2015, 68.4 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred when pedestrians attempted to cross roads at points without intersections or crosswalks. I know that it can be a bit of a hike between crosswalks in some jurisdictions, but until road designers install additional crosswalks, a bit more walking could make the difference between getting home safely and not getting home at all.

In addition, drunk walking appears to be a bigger problem than I thought. The NHTSA’s latest complete pedestrian fatality report from 2019 says that 31 percent of all pedestrians killed in crashes had a blood alcohol level of 0.8 g/dl or greater, and that includes people under the age of 21. I know that alcohol impairs judgment but damn. Maybe take things easy and keep your friends in check the next time you go out.

A typical stroad
Photo credit: tvdxer. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Finally, there’s road design, which I touched on in the previous paragraph. A vast number of arterial roadways in America are technically known as stroads. If that sounds like a gross word, that’s because stroads are pretty awful. Take one cup of higher-speed multi-lane road design, add the business entrances and pedestrian walkways of a street and presto, you have a road design that does absolutely nothing well. They suck for pedestrians because cars keep popping in and out of vehicle entrances to stores, creeping onto the sidewalk because huge flashy signs prevent drivers from seeing shit. It also sucks to exit a store onto a stroad as a driver because of that appalling visibility and a certain moral instinct not to inconvenience pedestrians. Driving along the stroad? That’s also terrible. Stop, go, stop, go, stop, go, all the way along the goddamn street. It’s slow, it’s inefficient, and the shitshow of bidirectional traffic on the stroad and at most intersections doesn’t make things much easier. I mean come on, arterial roads are the perfect use case for one-way streets. Road designers and city planners really need to do better, plastering up lower speed limit signs and installing speed cameras can only help so much with infrastructure this bad.

Honestly, as much as new urbanists rant about pedestrian safety being a one-sided issue, it’s going to take everyone to cut pedestrian deaths in America. There are these great concepts called compromise and responsibility that civilized people hold dear. So talk your parents out of buying that Canyonero, put a hand out when your drunk friend tries to dart into traffic, and relentlessly tell your city councilors that you want safer road design rather than the band-aid of lower speed limits that drivers will continue to ignore. It’ll take a lot to cut overall road deaths too, from better driver behavior to better infrastructure design. I know that road safety is often a dreary subject, but it’s our responsibility to keep roads safe so we can keep our friends and family alive while still enjoying the cars we know and love. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of state-imposed, wallet-crushing cure.

Lead photo credit: Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com). Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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58 Responses

  1. Before the pandemic, I had NEVER seen any of that weaving in traffic at 20mph over the flow of traffic that sometimes pops up on social media. Post pandemic onset, I see it almost every time I go more than 40 miles or so on the highway. It’s dangerous and scary. It’s like people have lost all patience.

  2. Here’s another factor, and I’m surprised it wasn’t given even a passing mention because I’m sure it’s relevant.

    Why have police response times increased? Why has violent crime increased? Why has shoplifting increased? Have we hired more police officers? Did we increase funding? Has respect for police increased? What about respect for laws and authority? When people don’t see cops on the road regularly, they speed. Many police departments have been reticent to project a strong police presence and I don’t see how that can help speeding or any other crime. There are consequences to childish, emotionally charged talking point and those consequences are far reaching when they tear at our social fabric.

    1. To answer those in order
      I’m pretty sure they haven’t. It demonstrably has not (excluding 2020, which I think we can all agree was a bad year). Because inflation makes everything hard on the lower class. No? No, but inflation means we’ll likely need to. Hell no. Absolutely not. People speed even when they do see cops regularly, the objective to most is getting from A to B quickly in a car, not necessarily to do so safely. Projecting strong authoritarian presence won’t help the issue, it makes people want to rebel even more, which usually causes worse outcomes. And, yes, you seem aware of that point, yet your second question was the false “Why has violent crime increased?” which, again, it demonstrably has not so spreading that continues to have consequences.

      1. I know there are plenty of unemployed sociology majors itching to put their degrees to some use on message boards, but you’re wrong and I’m right. Inflation, unemployment, and lack of respect for police caused a lot of trouble. Who did that? You argue common sense. And you debate that there’s even a problem. Check US montly gun-related homicide deaths. They are stable x 20 years except for the last 2. Who pushed lockdowns, school closures, and defunding the police?

    2. When are people going to get it in their heads that police and laws do not make crimes go down. This has never been statistically shown. What causes crimes is societal and socioeconomic strife. Fixing that is how you take care of it. Not more cops. Same thing about the conservative talking points about how liberal cities are rife with crime. Big cities tend to be more liberal and population and density is a huge crime factor.

      1. Increasing laws, and having more police, inevitably creates more criminals. This is because more laws mean more infractions. And more LEOs, means more opportunities for them to observe and then apprehend someone committing the infraction.

        What more laws and police DON’T do, is alter the baseline behavior of the population much.

        What strict ‘law and order’ types frequently fail to understand, is that the baseline behavior of the population is governed more by general consensus that members of society have about the level of justice within their society, than it is by harsh enforcement and punishment.

        This is easily observed by simple comparison of these characteristics between nation states.

        It’s my opinion, that the increase in social stressors which occurred with the pandemic, led to many anti-social and self-destructive compensation mechanisms, such as increased alcohol and drug use/deaths.

        This tendency probably has more effect on these numbers than most people appreciate.

      2. If more cops made us safer then the US would be the safest place in the world by a huge margin. This doesn’t mean I want to abolish the police, but their role and budgets need to be rethought.

      3. The likelihood of people breaking the law is strongly correlated to the probability people are going to get caught and punished (and not closely related to the severity of the punishment at all).

        It’s not just how many cops. It’s whether they’re good cops. We have a dramatic shortage of good cops. _Most_ of them are somewhere on the “bad” scale.

        “What causes crimes is societal and socioeconomic strife.”

        Pandemics not withstanding, US poverty isn’t up. Quite the contrary. It’s down. We’re one of the richest countries on the planet. When people bitch about “the 1%” they’re talking about the _majority of us_.

        There is a common thread though. General respect and care for other people. The problem we have is that not only do most of us not give a shit about each other, half of us actively loathe the other half of us. And yes, half. If we all had a little bit of respect for each other instead of performing a litmus test – be it money, politics, race, gender, sexuality, whatever – and then writing the other person off as less than human, then maybe we could talk about quantity of law enforcement officers relative to crime.

  3. Good article but “Do not ban SUVs because personal freedom” is disingenuous. There’s plenty of things that are banned in the public roads or are otherwise regulated out of being used by regular folks. Your car or SUV already has to comply with a million regulations specifying limits on weight, width, length and a million other things. And there’s plenty of vehicle modifications that are not allowed for a variety of reasons, mostly involving the safety of everyone else in the road.

    I agree that passing a law saying “SUV’s are now VERBOTEN” would be stupid —if nothing else suddenly nothing would be a SUV anymore according to some technicality—. But having more stringent weight limits and NHTSA pedestrian impact tests to pass would start going a long way towards making the more deadly designs impracticable to sell.

    1. My EV has a $250 license plate to account for the lost gas tax revenue… the societal cost… of it’s use. Let’s start taxing SUVs to truly account for their societal cost.

      1. State and federal vehicle taxes should be based on factors like overall weight, footprint, engine displacement (battery size?), etc. Most of the rest of the world does this. That’s why the 2.0 L 4 cyl turbo is so ubiquitous. Each of these factors increases the societal cost of the vehicle through road wear, safety, and resource consumption.

    2. Just apply the same standards fairly and across the board. While we are at it, please enforce the laws that already exist: on bumper heights and various dangerous modifications, not to mention idling laws and drunk driving checkpoints. And why are there so often no consequences of any kind when people run over pedestrians?

  4. After reading stories like this I’m always left asking myself, “how many of these involved the use of a phone or info touch screen?” Eight years ago was hit by a “phone guy.” Feel it every minute of every day still. Actually I’d rather see someone drive by me smoking a joint than to see some driver looking/talkin at that damn phone. Studies have shown a person is just as dangerous on the phone as opposed to driving drunk. Either one is selfish behavior, and a risk to others around them.

  5. I didn’t see any analysis of pedestrian distraction in this, and I’m curious about that. I’m seeing much more smartphone focused pedestrians out there now, and I think it’s gotten worse during the pandemic. I wouldn’t be shocked if that is a large component of the increase on pedestrians.

    You’re not going to see a return to small cars in NA — many states aren’t keeping up on their roads and there’s less chance against a truck. What’s next, external airbags?

    1. I have an unpopular opinion but I say we stop giving pedestrians automatic right of way. By every measure they should be watching out for the big things in the road that hit them. Pedestrians have nearly every advantage, too. Cars/trucks are easier to see and hear for pedestrians. Pedestrians can stop and turn in one step. Pedestrians aren’t constrained by the road. Cars are more predicable in direction of travel. A new one – it uses a lot more energy to slow a car and then get back to speed. Lastly, pedestrians are the ones who get hurt and killed in a collision. So make them responsible for their own safety.

      I’m a driver in a college town. Pedestrians just step out into traffic with no regard for the laws of physics, not paying attention at all. Students choose to stand in the middle of the street on campus over standing on the plentiful and safe non-road areas of campus. In other parts of town, people walk in the streets when there is a perfectly good sidewalk they can be safe while walking on.

      Now, just in case you’re thinking I’m totally anti-pedestrian, I think we can improve things for them to make things safer. More crosswalks with traffic control devices. You press the button, you wait for the signal, then you cross. Center islands for streets too congested or wide to cross in a timely fashion. Eliminate trees, bushes and other obstructions around crosswalks that hinder the view of drivers. No free flowing turns that make it impossible to cross the street safely. I would maintain the right of way for pedestrians in crosswalks who entered the crosswalk when the car had ample time to stop, but as a pedestrian I wouldn’t step out in front of an oncoming car until I was sure they saw me and were slowing down.

    2. I give Thomas a lot of credit for fair and balanced reporting with this piece. But, I agree he missed this point. I don’t drive in the city often, but had to do so a couple weeks ago (Lower Manhattan). At one point I had to brake very hard to avoid hitting a pedestrian that stepped out in front of me while their head was down to their phone. This was at an intersection where I had a green light. Thankfully I was able to stop in time. If I had hit them, it wouldn’t have been the fault of the small SUV I was driving….

  6. Say it with me, friends: transportation problems are actually urban design and zoning problems. Stroads, those lovable hellscapes of pedestrian inaccessibility, vehicular combat, and idling-induced smog, are a poster child but there are lots of other pernicious aspects to the way most American (and I guess Canadian?) cities are laid out.
    Want to ease congestion? 95% of your city’s area is zoned for single-family homes, so good luck implementing public transportation which adequately (and cheaply) covers 200 square miles of relatively low-population-density land.
    Want to improve air quality? Too bad, fucko! Those same zoning policies ensure housing supply lags behind demand, so enjoy commuting cross-town (along with everyone else) because you can’t afford to live near your work.
    Want to walk to the grocery store? Enjoy taking 10 minutes just to traverse their city-ordinance-mandated, several-block parking lot.

    1. But, but, but then people can’t remain ignorant assholes raising bad faith arguments about how you’re not backing the blue like a good servant, blame people with no control over gas prices for their 4MPG Carolina squatted coal roller, the Jewish Space Lasers, and something something women having rights has destroyed the moral fabric of society etcetera!
      How dare you infringe on their rights! Despite them being the ones screaming that only votes for them should count, clearly you are the fascist sir!

    2. The fix is to incentivize working from home. If companies were given tax breaks for every WFH position, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at making it happen. However we incentivize purchasing new cars with low sales taxes (in my state car sales are taxed at 3% compared to 6% on everything else), and even greater incentives for purchasing an EV.

      1. This will absolutely never happen because the entire fucking economy’s real foundation at this point is real estate. Residential and commercial. And the insane mythos that housing and commercial real estate prices must always go up, infinitely, with no ceiling ever.
        And you’re going to tell them that real estate prices must now go down and continue to go down? You’ll be strung up by Harvard MBAs inside of an hour. They’re already livid about fewer businesses being forced to lease space.

        Nevermind that tax incentives are literally worthless with any major employer at this point; none of them pay any taxes as is and successfully blackmailed states into a zero-sum game of paying them to move their offices. Any business small enough to benefit from this already went 100% WFH just to save on the rent overhead wherever possible.

    3. Daaan, you are spot on. Transportation and land use are linked and while both require complete reconstruction to be safe and sustainable, in most cases land use can only be changed via rezoning and waiting for market forces to lead to redevelopment. Absurd illustration: even when a city makes a new visionary land use plan, they typically don’t actually do the rezoning (to higher density or multiuse), so a developer still has to spend money and take the risk to try to implement the city’s vision. This, plus funding constraints and perverse incentives, leads to more low-density housing being built. More of the same.

    4. 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Hopefully, solutions that improve urban life can be constrained to not infringe on the quality of life of those who aren’t urbanites.

  7. U.S. Wine Market Sales Up 16.8% In 2021
    U.S. Beer Sales up 8.9% in 2021 Compared to 2019

    I’m not saying people spent 2020 and 2021 on a 2 year binge, but like you, I know plenty of people who did.

  8. With a 0.8 g/dl BAC, it’s likely that I’m dead. I suspect you meant .08 g/dl.

    “In addition, drunk walking appears to be a bigger problem than I thought. The NHTSA’s latest complete pedestrian fatality report from 2019 says that 31 percent of all pedestrians killed in crashes had a blood alcohol level of 0.8 g/dl or greater. . .”

  9. “There’s no need to ban large vehicles, but a gentle stick to encourage urban use for things like hauling furniture would keep casually-driven light trucks out of pedestrian-dense downtown cores.”

    You can’t ban those casually driven light trucks! Where else are people walking by supposed to throw their trash?

  10. So, we talk about road designs, vehicle choices, and regulation when a near majority of the deaths occur because of decisions made by the squishy lump behind the wheel.

    1. Seat belt usage: If seat belts aren’t used, the car turns on its hazards, beeps the horn and makes a complete ass of itself until you do buckle up.

    2. Speeding: Average speed cameras and automated ticketing in high-fatality areas? Vehicle speed sign recognition and audio/visual alerts when the car is speeding (see seat belts above).

    3. Drinking and driving: Breathalizer interlocks are probably overkill. Perhaps cars of the future can learn to recognize erratic driving related to drunkenness and tiredness and be more proactive.

    In the end, most of this is a lack of personal responsibility and good citizenship. That is the disappointing part.

    1. Forget the beeps. There are no technological barriers to GPS-based speed limiters that restrict cars to the speed limit. Also, speed and red light cameras solve so many safety and even equity concerns.

    2. 3. To combat impaired driving, we should lower the legal BAC limit. Most European counties have their BAC limit at 0.05 or lower. There should also be more limitations and counseling requirements for those convicted of DUI (with income-adjusted costs) and transportation alternatives for people who are impaired.

  11. Thanks for bringing this alarming trend in an already alarming number of lives lost (and many more lives changed forever) by our car-centric society. You are right that road designs, increasingly heavy/tall vehicles, and driver behavior are central to this issue. There is some evidence that reduced congestion lead to higher speeds and more crashes. While speeding makes things worse, the typical speed limits on most urban roads are enough to readily kill any outside of a vehicle. Driver’s not stopping for pedestrians in unmarked, marked, or beacon crosswalks (all the same under the law) is the most studied and accepted illegal and dangerous behavior in the country. Pedestrian behavior must be viewed through the lack of infrastructure…if few drivers stop when they should, crosswalks and intersection make no difference, so why walk the extra mile? Also, distracted drivers is an underreported epidemic, but distracted pedestrians is not really a thing. Lastly, look into FHWA’s new focus on “safe systems”, where an informal measure is even drunk people don’t kill themselves or others. Credentials: I’m a transportation safety engineer.

    Recommended reading: the National Roadway Safety Strategy, “Right of Way” by Angie Schmitt for pedestrian crashes, StrongTowns.org for more about “stroads”, and search for “unmarked crosswalk” in your city’s traffic code

  12. Its scary out there. I live in the SF Bay Area and people are seriously pegging the needle in terms of speed. My theory is that while traffic has mostly returned to normal, a large quantity of the tech industry is still working from home. This has the effect of slightly reducing the amount of cars on the freeways. Enough for occasional open areas and as soon as people hit those they absolutely floor it. We have routinely experienced people passing us like we were standing still even though we are going 75MPH

    1. “We have routinely experienced people passing us like we were standing still even though we are going 75MPH”

      Speeder denouncing speeders. Got it.

        1. I mean obviously you weren’t speeding as bad as the other guy. Your speeding didn’t hurt anyone. The other guy’s speeding on the other hand…

  13. What about improved driver education? We seem to take it as almost a “right” to drive, but our driver education is horrible, and often full of bullshit that makes traffic worse (employer-mandated defensive driving course told us to always way 2 seconds after the light turns green in case someone runs the light. Dumb “rule” instead of y’know, just looking left and right and using your brain, and now we have fucking poor signal operations because people sitting at a green when they could safety go. Argh!) We really need more people to have more experience and training before getting behind the wheel. Instead we seem to be in a “race to the bottom” of underinvestment in training and I firmly believe that fact is connected to our relatively poor road safety outcomes.

    BTW, as cars have gotten safer, a person is likely to be killed while inside one. Really need to look not just at the very improbable fatality outcome, but also at the serious injury rates. To me that gives a better idea of road safety, since it reflects serious incidents, many of which could have resulted in a fatality if the cosmic dice had rolled a different outcome.

  14. Banning SUVs (or even regulating them) is not the way to go to make a meaningful impact in pedestrian safety in less than 10 years. Most automotive related laws and rules have implementation guidelines that require a certain amount of notice so automotive manufacturers can develop vehicles to meet the rules. Emissions laws require at least 3 model years between finalization of the rule and enforcement, for example. (Yes, development timelines are that long. Emissions warranties for passenger cars are at least 150k miles, by law, and companies want to test to that actual limit on statistically relevant sample sizes on the final product. They’ll also run accelerated aging/durability earlier in the program. All of that takes time, no way around it.) So, you pass a rule tomorrow that bans SUVs/CUVs/Vehicles with bulldozer fronts. It doesn’t take effect until MY2026.

    Now, there was an article just the other day that the average vehicle age in the US is over 12 years old, and increasing. Without more data on the actual distribution of the vehicle ages, it’s harder to make an estimate on how long it will take for enough new pedestrian safe vehicles will have to be sold to start significantly impacting the death statistics, but it will obviously be years.

    As was pointed out in the article and by others in the comments, road design has a profound impact on the risk of collisions. A vehicle cannot hit a pedestrian if their pathways never cross. By separating pedestrian traffic from vehicle traffic (creating exclusion zones, pedestrian bridges, physical barriers, etc) no vehicle can hit a pedestrian. As a bonus, those features work as soon as they’re installed, for every single vehicle that uses that road. You have the added bonus of being able to target the areas with the highest risk first, making the biggest impact (no pun intended) immediately.

  15. These sorts of reports are always interesting to me because they encourage the “correlation vs causation” discussion.
    In 2020 there were far fewer drivers on the roads, but per capita accidents went up. Why? I can think of a few reasons:
    1) With many modes of public transit shut down, some people (for example: those who worked jobs that couldn’t be done remotely) began driving again out of necessity after a long hiatus. Driving is a skill like any other, and when someone is out of practice, they’re not as sharp as they once were.
    2) With public health guidance advising staying home, those who ventured out by choice (not those who did so out of necessity) were naturally those with a more risk-taking attitude. When the cautious people are all staying home, it’s the risk takers who are out on the road, so it’s not unreasonable to expect overall driving to be a bit more aggressive.

    As for crashes involving pedestrians, that could be explained by the increase in both cars on the roads and pedestrians out and about. After a period of light traffic and fewer pedestrians walking, as both now increase, the drivers aren’t expecting the pedestrians, and the pedestrians aren’t expecting the drivers.

    When I was a kid, I was taught to look both ways when crossing the street — even when the crosswalk signal indicates that I have the right of way. With inattentive drivers and poorly designed crosswalks* it’s all too easy for someone to make a mistake with dire consequences. You can have the right of way and still wind up in the hospital.

    I was visiting a new city recently and noticed that the crosswalk signals were positioned not directly across the street but instead on the post right above the “push for walk signal” button. This seemed odd to me until I realized that it encourages good situational awareness on the part of pedestrians. It forces you (or at least encourages you) to look in the direction the traffic is coming. When the signal changes, your head is already facing the traffic (doing half of the “look both ways” maneuver) so that you can tell if the car is not going to stop for you. It felt unusual at first, but it was much more intuitive than the traditional arrangement.

    *There is one intersection near my home that I think is a particularly egregious example of this. While the “walk” signal is on, drivers may make a legal right turn on red directly into the crosswalk. Since the drivers’ attention is turned the opposite way (checking to see if there is oncoming traffic), many totally miss that pedestrians are entering the crosswalk. Several people have been hit there. At least one died. I personally witnessed many close calls. The driver is most certainly in the wrong, but that’s of little comfort to the injured (or worse) pedestrian, and honestly if I were the urban designer I’d put up a “No Turn on Red” sign.

    1. Turning into a crosswalk on a red light is just dumb. Turning right on a green right turn arrow is smart and convenient. There are a handful of right turn arrows in my area and I love them. The crosswalks should not be a hazard to the people trying to use them.
      I am in favor of “No Turn on Red” signs, and right turn green arrows.

    2. I agree, I also could generalize that the pandemic caught everyone off guard by changing life patterns that we’re all use to. When we come and go at different times than we use to it’s a bit disruptive. I remember actually seeing the same people on my daily commutes when I used to work at the same place starting at the same time. The pandemic changed all of that. As much as we hate to admit it we are creatures of habit

  16. Look at the general condition of us all!

    Maybe stoned, drunk and depressed is not a plus for driving skills, but hey, what do I know?

  17. “speeding” is such a BS catch all. In a total made up statistic by me 90% of people speed. Almost no one is going the speed limit on the highway. Saying speeding causes that many accidents is like saying 100% of people who eat will eventually die. These two things aren’t really related. I’d argue speeding is at best a secondary factor and something else was the main cause. By saying speeding causes 45% of accidents you’re trying to justify a tax/secondary income source for cities and towns.

    1. From Dave Barry, 36 years ago…

      “It is not entirely their fault. Part of the problem is all those signs on the interstates that say: SPEED LIMIT 55. I am no psychologist, but I believe those signs may create the impression among poorly informed drivers that the speed limit is 55. Which of course it is not. We Americans pretend 55 is the speed limit, similar to the way we’re always pretending we want people to have a nice day, but it clearly isn’t the real speed limit, since nobody, including the police, actually drives that slowly, except people wearing hats in the left lane.

      So the question is, how fast are you really allowed to drive? And the answer is: Nobody will tell you. I’m serious. The United States is the only major industrialized democracy where the speed limit is a secret. I called up a guy I know who happens to be a high-ranking police officer, and I asked him to tell me the real speed limit, and he did, but only after — this is the absolute truth — he made me promise I wouldn’t reveal his name, or his state, or, above all, the speed limit itself. Do you believe that? Here in the United States of America, Land of the Free, home of the recently refurbished Statue of Liberty, we have an officer of the law who is afraid he could lose his job for revealing the speed limit.”

    2. THANK YOU! So many people on here and in society just accept that this statistic means that Speeding = Bad Driver. It’s so ingrained in the populace that the guy doing 5 over who has to pass on the right is the “dangerous driver”, but the oblivious person doing 5 under (and texting, or eating, or applying makeup) is a “good driver”. And when the oblivious person veers out of their lane and into the hammer lane, causing a crash, the officer gives a ticket to the “speeder” rather than tell the person who caused the accident that they’re in the hospital because they’re stupid, and didn’t properly respect their responsibilities while driving a 3k pound hunk of steel.

  18. “Plus, a 2016 AAA report found that 48 percent of Americans reported going 15 mph over the speed limit in the month before the survey and roughly 45 percent admitted to going 10 mph above the speed limit on a residential street in the month before the survey.”

    Including 100% of drivers in Massachusetts, for a start.

    1. If 45% of drivers are exceeding the speed limit, the speed limit is set too low according to the standards, which specify setting it at a 85th percentile level, the speed at which 85% of people are traveling at or below.

      1. Only in California, and that’s as dumb a way as setting speed limits as letting a bunch of NIMBY millionaires who’ve never sat in anything below a Land Rover Discovery go to Town Meeting and vote on a town-wide 25 mph limit, which is how we do things in much of MA.

  19. Increased driver education and licensing standards seem like a no brainer to me. Make it so that licenses expire after five years and need to be re-applied for.

    The legal distinction between cars and trucks continues to baffle me. If it is a road-going vehicle, it should be subject to the same safety and economy standards as any other road-going vehicle. There shouldn’t be a need to outright ban any particular class of vehicle, but the cost to own and operate should reflect the relative impact on roadways and other infrastructure.

    1. Holding out for a surplus M270, which rides on the same chassis as the Bradley but rocks dual 12-round 227mm rocket launchers.

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