The 10 Most Dangerous States for Pedestrians

August 4, 2014 by Thomas C. Frohlich

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Nearly all Americans are pedestrians at some point during the day and must rely on traffic infrastructure and competent drivers to avoid accidents. Of the 33,561 traffic fatalities in 2012, 4,743 were pedestrians, a 9.4% increase from 2010. While some states have improved pedestrian safety, pedestrian traffic fatalities increased in most states.

According to data recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1.51 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents for every 100,000 U.S. residents in 2012. Pedestrians in some states are at a considerably higher risk than in others. Delaware led the nation with nearly three pedestrian fatalities for every 100,000 residents. South Dakota had just 0.24 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, the lowest rate nationwide.

Pedestrian fatalities increased between 2010 and 2012 in all but three of the 10 most dangerous states. Two of the states where pedestrian fatalities fell, Florida and Arizona, have funded extensive education and infrastructure projects to make daily travel safer for pedestrians. On the other hand, pedestrian fatalities increased by more than 80% in New Mexico, well above the 9.4% increase nationwide over the same two-year period.

A variety of factors can put pedestrians at greater risk, from proper infrastructure, to personal choices both drivers and pedestrians make. Robert Archuleta, director of the Traffic Safety Division of the New Mexico Department of Transportation, explained that engineering decisions such as “creating overpasses, creating safe routes, better roads,” as well as “providing funding for law enforcement to enforce safety laws on seat belts, impaired driving, and speeding” can prevent pedestrian fatalities.

In many cases, states have lower quality infrastructure because of limited resources, according to Archuleta. The lacking infrastructure can increase the likelihood of traffic fatalities. With the exceptions of Delaware and Hawaii, median household incomes in all of the most dangerous states for pedestrians were lower than the national median of $51,371.

However, there is only so much that well-designed infrastructure can accomplish. In an e-mail correspondence, officials at the Texas Department of Transportation said that, “Ultimately, the safety of everyone on or near our roadways is dependent upon personal responsibility and compliance with all traffic laws.” External distractions such as “cell phones and loud music should also be put away or turned down so that the eyes and ears of both pedestrians and drivers remain focused on traffic and traffic signals.”

Archuleta agreed that individual choices are a central driver of traffic incidents, which is why New Mexico and other states allocate funds to educating residents on road safety. “Texting and driving right now is probably the biggest factor that’s impacting fatalities,” Archuleta said. “The proliferation of mobile devices has people on these phones constantly,” which can lower both a pedestrian and a driver’s awareness and reaction time. High alcohol use rates are also a major component in traffic accidents. Like most state transportation departments, New Mexico targets areas associated with high alcohol use because those are the areas where pedestrian deaths are most likely.

A longer commute may also increase the risk of pedestrian fatalities because people are either walking on the road for longer periods of time, or driving in cars for greater portions of the day. Residents in five states with the highest pedestrian fatality rates were among the 10 most likely states to spend between 15 and 30 minutes commuting to work every day. The percentage of residents who spent less than 15 minutes commuting, on the other hand, was relatively low compared to the national rate. Many of these commuters drove to work. Residents of all but one state on this list were more likely to drive to work than the average American.

In many of these states, however, roads are simply less safe, regardless of how far or for how long residents are travelling. Pedestrian fatalities per 100 million miles travelled were higher than average in all but one state on this list.This suggests road safety is dependent upon factors other than the number of cars on the road.

We also reviewed Walk Score’s ratings of large urban areas in a majority of these states. Unsurprisingly, many of the most dangerous states for pedestrians had cities that were also among the worst rated for walkability. Seven of the 10 lowest-rated large cities for walking are in states on our list.

To identify the most dangerous states for pedestrians, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed traffic-related fatality rates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We also reviewed commuting data and poverty figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Walkability ratings come from Walk Score, which measures pedestrian friendliness on a scale of 0-100 in U.S. cities based on distance to amenities, access to public transit, and other road metrics.

These are the 10 most dangerous states for pedestrians.

10. Texas
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.83
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 478 (2nd highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 3,398 (the highest)

There were 1.8 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 Texans in 2012, the 10th highest rate nationwide. Texas led the nation in total traffic deaths, with nearly 3,400 in 2012. More than 14%, or 478, of those killed were pedestrians. The likelihood that a pedestrian will be killed in a traffic accident in Texas has also been growing in recent years. Pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents increased by 33.6% between 2010 and 2012, versus an increase of 9.4% nationwide. Texas is the nation’s second-most populous state, as well as among the least densely populated. This may explain the high numbers of cars in Texas, potentially putting the state’s pedestrians at greater risk. Vehicles in Texas travelled a combined 237.8 million miles in 2012, more than in every state except for California.

9. Arizona
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.86
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 122 (12th highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 825 (15th highest)

In past years, Arizona was one of the nation’s most dangerous states for pedestrians and bikers. Bowing to pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arizona retrofitted many of its streets with wider sidewalks, pedestrian refuge islands, and additional landscaping to make travel safer for pedestrians. As a result, the number of pedestrians per 100,000 residents killed in motor vehicle accidents fell by more than 18% between 2010 and 2012, among the largest declines in the country. Still, pedestrians accounted for nearly 15% of total traffic fatalities in Arizona, the sixth highest rate in the country in 2012.

8. Hawaii
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.87
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 26 (13th lowest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 126 (7th lowest)

Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people in Hawaii fell by 12.6% in 2011 compared to the year before, at a time when such fatalities increased across the nation. The following year, however, the rate of fatalities in Hawaii increased again. The pedestrian death rate increased 12.0% between 2011 and 2012 to 1.87 fatalities per 100,000 Hawaiians, the eighth highest rate in the country. Of the 126 traffic deaths in the state, 20.6% were pedestrians, more than all but five other states. Since there are relatively few total incidents in the state, small changes may account for the large pedestrian fatality rate fluctuations in recent years. Hawaii’s police department, however, reported overall increases in drug and alcohol-related traffic accidents, which may partly explain the high pedestrian fatality rate in Hawaii.

7. Nevada
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.96
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 54 (24th lowest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 258 (16th lowest)

Commuting patterns may be one explanation for the increased risk of traffic accidents among Nevada’s pedestrians. While 36.4% of the national workforce spent between 15 minutes to 30 minutes commuting to work, 45% of Nevadan working-age adults did so, the most nationwide. And the vast majority of commuters — 88.9% — drove to work in 2012, versus 86% of Americans. Major cities in Nevada are car-dependent, according to Walk Score. This means that those without cars need to walk long distances to reach basic amenities, which may also explain the state’s high pedestrian fatality rate. The pedestrian fatality rate increased by 47.4% between 2010 and 2012, among the largest two-year increase and considerably higher than the national increase.

6. North Carolina
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.02
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 197 (5th highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 1,292 (5th highest)

North Carolina is one of the nation’s most densely populated states, with 363.7 people per square mile as of 2012, more than in all but five other states. State residents are also more likely to drive than residents in other states, with nearly 105 million total miles that year. Perhaps as a result, there were 1,292 traffic-related deaths in 2012, the fifth highest number of fatalities in the country. Nearly 200 of the victims were pedestrians, also among the highest nominal figures. The pedestrian fatality rate increased by more than 14% between 2010 and 2012, among the higher rates nationwide. Additionally, among the 10 U.S. cities with the lowest Walk Score rating, four were located in the state. In turn, pedestrians may need to walk a long way to reach basic needs, which increases the likelihood of pedestrian fatalities.

5. Florida
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.46
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 476 (3rd highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 2,424 (3rd highest)

Pedestrian fatalities fell by 4.3% between 2011 and 2012 to 2.46 deaths per 100,000 residents, one of only two states on this list where the death rate declined over that period. This improvement may be due to Florida’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which provides resources to improve local infrastructures. With one of the highest shares of the population in the country commuting more than 30 minutes per day — most of which will travel by car — Florida has a lot to gain from ensuring pedestrian safety. Florida’s high pedestrian death rate may be due in part to its large elderly population, which accounts for 18.2% of the state’s total residents and is the highest proportion in the country. According to one recent study, residents over 65 years old account for a relatively large proportion of pedestrian deaths, and are more likely than other groups to be involved in accidents.

4. Louisiana
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.56
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 118 (13th highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 722 (19th highest)

The rate of pedestrian fatalities in Louisiana rose by 57% between 2010 and 2012, from 1.63 fatalities per 100,000 residents to 2.56, well above the 1.51 fatalities per 100,000 residents nationwide. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 10.4% of total traffic fatalities in 2010, nearly three percentage points below the national share of pedestrian fatalities. By 2012, pedestrian fatalities accounted for 16.3% of total fatalities, exceeding the national rate by more than two percentage points. Like several of the most dangerous states for pedestrians, Louisiana residents are relatively poor, which may reflect an area’s ability to invest in safe road infrastructure.

3. South Carolina
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.60
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 123 (11th highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 863 (13th highest)

There were 18.3 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 South Carolina residents in 2012, among the highest fatality rates in the nation. By contrast, 10.7 people per 100,000 Americans died in traffic accidents. Like most dangerous states for pedestrians, a relatively high proportion of South Carolina’s workforce — 41% — spent between 15 minutes to 30 minutes commuting to work, perhaps increasing the likelihood of traffic accidents. While the South Carolina Department of Public Safety reported a downward trend in traffic accidents, the state’s pedestrian fatality rate has been on the rise. Between 2010 and 2012, 34.0% more pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents per 100,000 residents, substantially larger than the national growth.

2. New Mexico
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.92
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 61 (24th highest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 365 (20th lowest)

New Mexico had 2.92 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2012, an 82.5% increase from two years earlier. The share of pedestrian deaths out of total traffic fatalities also increased to 16.7% from 11.6% a year earlier, more than two percentage points above the national share. According to Walk Score, New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, was very car-dependent. New Mexico also had one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in the country, perhaps indicating that driving in New Mexico is particularly dangerous. As Archuleta explained, poorer areas in New Mexico may have difficulty finding resources for pedestrian infrastructure, which likely has an impact on road safety. A typical household in New Mexico earned just $42,558 in 2012, less than all but a handful of states.

1. Delaware
> Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.94
> Total pedestrian fatalities: 27 (15th lowest)
> Total traffic fatalities: 114 (5th lowest)

Nowhere in America was it more dangerous to cross the street than in Delaware, where nearly three pedestrians died in traffic accidents per 100,000 residents in 2012. While Delaware led the nation in pedestrian fatalities in 2012, the chance of being killed walking in the state has fluctuated considerably. There were just 27 pedestrian fatalities in 2012, so a slight change in the number of major accidents, or a particularly safe year, will have a large impact on the state’s fatality rate. Unsurprisingly, the pedestrian death rate fell by nearly 20% in 2010, but spiked by nearly 50% the following year. Nevertheless, pedestrians seem to be more especially vulnerable in Delaware. A pedestrian was the victim of nearly one in every five fatal traffic-related accidents, a greater proportion than in all but two other states.