Why the Odds of Being Killed by a Car Walking or Biking Have Skyrocketed

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released its 2018 figures on traffic fatalities. Some 36,560 people died on American roads in 2018. The good news is that this number was down 2.4% from 2017. Among the bad news is that pedestrians and bike riders who were killed by cars rose 3.4% to 6,283. The number is also up 53% from 2009.

The comparison of the deaths of pedestrians and those rising bikes was even worse than it appears. The number was also the highest since 1990. While seat belts, airbags and better-built cars have helped drivers and vehicle occupants, these advantages do nothing to help people walking or cycling. Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, commented on the numbers, “This is an epidemic of preventable deaths. We need to double down to figure out how to achieve better pedestrian detection and more widespread adoption.” Some new cars have ways to detect walking people or those on bikes. Clearly, that is not enough. For starters, many cars don’t have these systems.

Car companies should do more for the safety of pedestrians. While the technology that allows a car to detect people is available, the great majority of vehicles do not have it. And there is evidence that the detection systems can be poor. The AAA recently issued a report titled, “AAA Warns Pedestrian Detection Systems Don’t Work When Needed Most.” Among the problems is that detection systems do not work after dark. About 75% of pedestrian deaths happen after sundown. AAA tests show that vehicles do not detect pedestrians under many other circumstances.

The breakout of pedestrian deaths last year is that 6,293 people were killed while walking, up 208 year over year. The figure was 857 among bikers, up 51. Some cities are much safer for bikers than others. Among those victims categorized as “other/unknown,” the number was 214, down 22 from 2017.

While a decline in drunk driving and better safety systems in vehicles continue to reduce the number of drivers and passengers killed in cars, pedestrians have not been so fortunate.