Distracted Pedestrians & Deadly Accidents [Study Results]

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore...

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UPDATED: Apr 15, 2020

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Article about Distracted Pedestrains and anaylzing pedestrian behaviors and fatalities.

The lowdown...

  • From 2013-2017, pedestrian fatalities in America increased by 25%
  • 76% of drivers surveyed saw pedestrians distracted by their phones
  • From 6 p.m. – 6 a.m., there were 4,297 pedestrians killed in 2017
  • On average in 2017, 16 pedestrians were killed each day in crashes

If you’ve ever jogged through a well-trafficked neighborhood or taken a stroll through the car-jammed streets of a city, you’ve probably encountered a potentially dangerous situation with a vehicle. In the least, you understood that moving vehicles and pedestrians aren’t always paying attention to one another.

But what happens as the number of vehicles on the road increases and the distraction of our technology becomes just as much of a problem for pedestrians as it is for drivers?

Pedestrian deaths have risen steadily over the past few years, up 25% from 2013 to 2017, according to data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Our project paired survey data collected from over 820 drivers with pedestrian data from FARS to show how prevalent distracted walking is and its deadly effects. Our study found that in 2017, an average of 16 pedestrians died in an accident every day. Read on to learn more about pedestrian fatalities across America.

Distracted While Walking

Distracted pedestrians are all too common, with 72% of drivers reporting they’ve seen an increase in distracted pedestrians over the past five years, according to our study. One possible explanation for this is the hurriedness of modern life putting pressure on people to multitask while in transport. In the back of an Uber, catching up on an email, or talking to a companion is fairly safe; while walking, this behavior can be deadly. 
From years 2013-2017, there was a 25% increase in pedestrian fatalities. This ins't necessarily the fault of drives as pedestrians are often witnessed behaving distracted- looking at their phone, wearing headphones.
Seventy-nine percent of drivers had seen a distracted pedestrian in the last month, with 35% reporting seeing one at least once a week. Drivers reported most often seeing pedestrians distracted by their phones; indeed, around three-quarters of drivers saw a pedestrian looking at, using, or talking on their phone while walking.
Other dangerous pedestrian behaviors included not looking for oncoming traffic and crossing at locations other than a crosswalk or intersection. Less common – but still prevalent – behaviors included wearing headphones, talking to a friend, and eating, all while walking on the street. 

Dangerous Times to Walk

Evening and nighttime were the most dangerous times to be a pedestrian, according to FARS data.

The hours of 6 p.m. to midnight were the most dangerous times for pedestrians, and this got steadily worse over the past five years.

In fact, while pedestrian deaths in the daytime stayed relatively the same, fatalities from 9 p.m. to midnight increased by 34% from 2013 to 2017, and deaths from midnight to 3 a.m. increased by 30% in the same time frame.
Dangerous times for pedestrians, comparing 2013 and 2017
Pedestrian deaths at night have increased considerably since 2013, according to our data:

  • 3,336 nighttime deaths occurred in 2013
  • 4,297 nighttime deaths occurred in 2017

If we calculate the percentage change for this specific time of day, nighttime pedestrian deaths increased by 29% in just five years. Luckily, daytime deaths didn’t increase as drastically as those that occurred in the dark:

  • 1,415 daytime deaths in 2013
  • 1,653 daytime deaths in 2017

There was around a 17% increase in daytime pedestrian fatalities, which is still reason enough for pedestrians to stroll in the daylight with caution. 

Nervous Drivers

Interestingly, when asked how nervous drivers were with respect to pedestrians at various times of day and night, people’s nervousness did not follow the observed pattern of pedestrian deaths. Nearly a quarter of all drivers reported being most nervous to drive between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and between midnight and 3 a.m. when accidents resulting in pedestrian deaths were considerably less common than at night.

Comparing driver sentiment and pedestrian deaths in 2017
While survey respondents were not asked why certain times of day made them more nervous than others, one can speculate that 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. is rush hour for most commuters, which means more cars on the road traveling home from work. Additionally, schools let out during this time, and an increase in foot traffic is enough to make any experienced driver nervous. 

At-Risk Pedestrians, by Demographic

When we think about the risk to pedestrians, we also need to consider their age group, namely those who are most at risk of being a casualty. The graphs below describe pedestrian deaths by age. They have been normalized per 100,000 residents based on U.S. census data to account for fluctuations. 
In 2017, adult pedestrians were much more likely to be killed than children and adolescents. Male pedestrians no matter the age, were killed more frequently than female pedestrians. Even though, adult pedestrians were much more at risk of death, survey respondents, 57%, believed teenagers were much more likely to be distracted pedestrians.
Men were about 2.4 times more likely than women to die as pedestrians, a pattern that emerged among teenagers and remained true for all age groups. Additionally to the data shown, we found that male pedestrian deaths also increased more significantly since 2013:

  •  2017 data shows male deaths were up 21% since 2013.
  • Female deaths only rose by 13% in 2017 compared to 2013. 

Surprisingly enough, we found that casualties per 100,000 residents were actually higher for adults. This contrasted with our survey data: 57% of drivers said they believed teenagers to be more at risk for distracted walking. 

Dangerous Pedestrian States

It’s worth repeating: In 2017, an average of 16 pedestrians died in an accident every day. With that grim reality in mind, there was also a huge variance in pedestrian deaths across the U.S. It’s a reasonable assumption that a high number of fatal accidents in a state might mean more pedestrians are at risk. 
The top 5 most dangerous states for pedestrians are New Mexico, Delaware, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada. Whereas, the least dangerous states for pedestrians are North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Idaho. The most dangerous states for pedestrians were over three times ass dangerous than the safest ones. From 2013-2017, a few states saw a decrease in pedestrian deaths: Montana, Hawaii, and New York saw a decrease in pedestrians deaths by .05 to one death per 100,000 residents.
The safest states for pedestrians, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Idaho, all had less than one pedestrian death per 100,000 people in 2017.

The most dangerous states for pedestrians were over three times as dangerous than the safest ones: New Mexico (3.53 per 100,000), Delaware (3.45), Florida (3.12), South Carolina (3.07), Nevada (3.06), and Arizona (3.06).

When we analyzed the data from 2013 and compared to the most recent, we found that all of these states saw significant increases since 2013, as did Alaska, Alabama, and Arizona.
A few states managed to decrease pedestrian deaths since 2013, despite rising national averages. Montana, Hawaii, and New York saw a decrease in pedestrian deaths by 0.5 to one death per 100,000 residents. A further examination of policy, behavioral, and demographic changes in these states is required to understand the improvement in per-capita pedestrian deaths, though.

Accident Scenarios

When fatal accidents involving pedestrians occur, they are categorized by FARS into various scenarios that describe the way the pedestrian and driver came into contact – offering an interesting perspective into the most dangerous vehicle maneuvers for pedestrians. 
The most common scenarios that result in pedestrian deaths are crossing a roadway (vehicle not turning), walking or running along a roadway and unusual circumstances. Dash and dart scenarios represented 25% of pedestrian deats among those 15 years old and younger but only around 6% of adults. Survey respondents reported feeling most nervous around pedestrians in urban areas, near school buses, school zones, and sidewalks.
By far, the most common scenario in which pedestrians were killed was when they crossed roadways.

All scenarios in which pedestrians crossed (crossing a roadway or expressway) whether the vehicle was turning or not, accounted for 47% of pedestrian deaths in 2017.

Other scenarios where pedestrians were in the roadway – walking/running along the roadway, dashing/darting, working or playing in the roadway, etc. – accounted for 27% of pedestrian deaths.
How has this changed with time? Deaths by roadway crossings were up by nearly 1,000 casualties in the most recent two years of data analyzed. Take a look at the chart below to see just how many pedestrian casualties there have been from previous years.
 All scenarios in which pedestrians crossed (crossing a roadway or expressway, vehicle turning or not turning) accounted for 47% of pedestrian deaths in 2017. Other scenarios where pedestrians were in the roadway (walking/running along the roadway, dashing/darting, working or playing in the roadway, etc.) accounted for 27% of pedestrian deaths. Only scenarios in which a vehicle was backing up or a bus stop or bus was involved saw a minimal decrease from years 2014-2015 to 2016-2017.

Heightened Awareness

What are the biggest problems we face when talking about pedestrian safety on the roads? The largest increases in pedestrian fatalities since 2013 involved pedestrians crossing roadways and walking in the dark. But with those stats, as well as those supporting the prevalence of distracted walking, it seems the responsibility has to be on both the driver and the walker.

The relationship between the rise of smartphone use and pedestrian deaths is not unrelated.

Since 2009, there has been a “fivefold” increase in smartphone use, along with an even larger increase in data usage. In response, pedestrian deaths have continued to rise along with driver casualtiesSo while more agencies are shedding light on increasing pedestrian deaths, what can we do now to alleviate this tragic problem? Certainly being alert and cognizant behind the wheel is one big step in the right direction.
Here at Carinsurance.org, we’ve compiled the necessary reading, so you can be more aware of the risks of driving and how to stay safer on the road. Beyond getting free auto insurance comparisons by ZIP code, our resources can also help you understand how to be a more defensive driver, so you can keep your family safe and protected on the road. 

Methodology and Limitations

  • We analyzed five years of data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to examine pedestrian deaths due to vehicles in America.
  • For visualizations including demographic population data, we calculated fatalities per capita using the U.S. census to normalize our data.
  • We also surveyed 821 drivers to see what pedestrian behaviors drivers observed that could potentially lead to dangerous situations.
  • For our survey data, we did not have a validated measure of “pedestrian nervousness” so we created a linear Likert scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not at all nervous” and 5 being “extremely nervous.”
  • Because our survey is a survey of drivers observing pedestrian behaviors, certain limitations apply such as exaggeration, telescoping, and selective memory.

Fair Use Statement

Do you think these study results will help keep your loved ones safe while walking on the roads? Feel free to share our study for noncommercial purposes, but don’t forget to link back to this page to properly credit our work.

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