Study: racial disparities in pedestrian fatality rates across the U.S.

Traffic Safety Pulse News

Streets throughout the country are more dangerous for pedestrians, particularly Black, Hispanic and individuals in low-income communities, a new report by Smart Growth America found.

Titled "Dangerous by Design," the annual pedestrian fatality report from Smart Growth America and National Complete Streets Coalition found that the fatality rate in the lowest-income neighborhoods were nearly twice that of middle-income neighborhoods, and more than three times that of higher-income areas. Despite accounting for only 17% of the population, more than 30% of pedestrian deaths occur in the lowest-income neighborhoods, the report said.

“The lower the income of the census tract, the more likely a person is to be struck and killed while walking there,” the report said. “Poor walking infrastructure and a lack of safety features put people walking in low-income neighborhoods at higher risk, and many lower-income households do not have access to a vehicle and must rely on walking or public transportation to get around.”

Male walking across busy urban street

The study used data from 2016 to 2020 from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Streetlight Data and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report found that more than 6,500 people were struck and killed while walking, or 18 people a day, a 4.5% increase from 2019.

Among the top 20 metro areas with the highest fatality rates, four are in California – Bakersfield (No. 7), Stockton (No. 9), Fresno (No. 10) and Riverside (No. 14). All of these metro areas have become more deadly, according. to the report.

The report comes after the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimated 7,845 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles in 2021, the largest number in four decades. 

And even though fewer people drove in 2020 due to the pandemic, there was a 4.5% increase in pedestrian deaths compared to 2019, the report found.

"This epidemic continues growing worse because our nation’s streets are dangerous by design, designed primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe," Smart Growth America said. 

"Although everyone is affected by dangerous street design in some way, this burden is not shared equally. Despite other changes, the pandemic perpetuated existing disparities in who is being killed at the highest rates."