Despite a precipitous drop in travel, pedestrians are dying in increasing numbers across the United States.
Highway safety officials say speeding motorists and diminished traffic enforcement may be driving an increase in pedestrian fatalities that's reached historic proportions during the pandemic. Approximately 6,721 died in 2020, according to estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
If it holds, that would be the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in 31 years.
The number represents a 4.8 percent increase over 2019. Troubling on its own, the increase comes during a year when the number of vehicle miles traveled declined by 13.2 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Combined, the increase in deaths and lower travel rate result in a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.3 deaths per 1 billion miles traveled, a 21 percent year-over-year increase from the rate of 1.9 deaths in 2019.
"On one hand, it's not surprising because we've been talking about this for a year now," said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "But a year-plus after COVID hit, and now with a full year's worth of data, it's still really shocking that traffic deaths have skyrocketed like this. We never thought this would happen."
Traffic deaths overall rose during the pandemic approximately 7.2 percent year over year, according to estimates released this month by NHTSA, reaching 38,680. That's the highest number since 2007.