The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has released preliminary data on 2021 pedestrian fatalities, and the news isn’t good. They’re reporting an estimated 7,485 people around the United States hit and killed by cars and other motor vehicles in 2021. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the last time more than 7,000 pedestrians were fatally hit by motor vehicles in a single year was 1982.
Though 2021 fatalities hit a new peak, pedestrian fatalities have been trending upward for several years. From 2010 to 2020, the annual number of pedestrian deaths increased by 54%, from 4,302 to 6,607. While traffic fatalities in general trended upward during the same period, the jump in pedestrian fatalities was much more significant. And, pedestrians make up an increasing percentage of those killed in traffic.
Where Does South Carolina Rank in Pedestrian Fatalities?
South Carolina isn’t one of the top U.S. states for pedestrian fatalities. The number one slot goes to California, with more than 1,000 pedestrian deaths in 2020 and an estimated 958 in 2021. But, the numbers are creeping up. The state saw 164 pedestrian deaths in 2019 and an estimated 192 in 2021–an increase of more than 17% in just two years.
The number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents is significantly higher in South Carolina than the national average. Just three other states have higher pedestrian fatality rates on a per-population basis–all of them other year-round warm weather states.
Why are Pedestrian Fatalities Increasing?
As time goes by, there are more and more vehicles on the road and more vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Though VMT dipped in 2020 due to pandemic-era restrictions and a shift to remote work, there’s been a general upward trend for more than 50 years. In 1971, total vehicle miles traveled was just under 1.2 trillion. Today, that number is about 3.2 trillion.
While increased traffic may play a role in the growing number of pedestrian fatalities, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s not just the raw number of pedestrians killed that’s increasing. Between 2016 and 2021, the rate of pedestrian fatalities per one billion VMT increased by more than 20%.
Some variables that are making South Carolina and other U.S. states more dangerous for pedestrians include:
- Speeding: While speeding has always been a traffic safety issue and played a role in pedestrian deaths, both the number and percentage of pedestrian fatalities associated with speeding drivers has increased in recent years. In 2016, 442 pedestrians died in speeding-related accidents. In 2020, that number was 562.
- Alcohol: In 2020, 16.1% of pedestrian fatalities involved a drunk driver (one whose BAC was at or above .08 at the time of the accident). That’s significant, but alcohol consumption among pedestrians plays an even bigger role. In 2020, 31.2% of pedestrians over the age of 15 who were killed in traffic had BACs of .08% or higher.
- Darkness: It stands to reason that the risk of being hit by a car would be greater after dark, and most pedestrian fatalities happen between sunset and sunrise. But, the gap has widened considerably in recent years. Since 2010, pedestrian deaths during daylight hours have increased by 15.9%, while nighttime fatalities have increased by 63.4%.
Avoiding Pedestrian Accidents
The risk factors described above provide a good roadmap for both drivers and pedestrians. As a driver:
- Observe the speed limit, and slow down even further when conditions warrant greater caution. Not only are you more likely to hit a pedestrian at higher speeds due to increased stopping time, but higher speed increases the likelihood of death or serious injury to the pedestrian.
- Don’t operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. About 30% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. involve drivers who are legally intoxicated.
- Be extra vigilant when driving after dark, no matter where you are. A significant percentage of after-dark pedestrian fatalities take place where you might not expect people to be walking, such as along the interstate or expressway.
As a pedestrian or potential pedestrian:
- Think twice about walking along roads at night, and make sure to use crosswalks and obey traffic signals when crossing.
- Avoid distractions such as reading something on your phone or texting while walking, and don’t block out ambient sound with headphones.
- Ensure that you’re wearing light-colored or reflective clothing if you are walking at night.
- Stick to sidewalks when possible, and the shoulder as far from traffic as possible when you must walk on the street.
- Don’t walk around outdoors under the influence of alcohol. Avoiding driving is the right decision, but walking and bicycling under the influence can also be risky. Consider Uber or catching a ride with a sober friend.
Help for Victims of Pedestrian Accidents
If you’ve been hit by a car and injured, or if you have lost a loved one in a pedestrian accident, you may be entitled to compensation. The best way to get personalized information about your rights and options after a Charleston pedestrian accident is to talk to an experienced South Carolina personal injury lawyer.
Attorney Frank Hartman knows how stressful the time after a serious injury can be, and how important it is that you have knowledgeable guidance as soon as possible after your accident. That’s why he offers free consultations to people who have been injured in car accidents in and around Charleston. You can schedule yours now by calling 843-300-7600.