February 2014

  1. How many pedestrians are killed and injured each year?

    In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed and approximately 76,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes on public roadways in the United States. Pedestrians comprised about 14 percent of crash deaths. A study on pedestrians treated in emergency rooms found that 12 percent of pedestrians injured in crashes were struck in a nonroadway location such as a parking lot and therefore wouldn't be counted in official statistics. Stutts, J.C. and Hunter, W.W. 1999. Injuries to pedestrian and bicyclists: an analysis based on hospital emergency department data. Publication no. FHWA-RD-99-078. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration.  Thus, it's likely that the true number of pedestrians injured in motor vehicles crashes in 2012 was greater than 76,000.

  2. What is the trend in pedestrian deaths?

    Since 1975, the annual number of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. has declined 37 percent, compared with a 22 percent decline in other motor vehicle crash deaths. Pedestrian deaths comprised 17 percent of all crash deaths in 1975 and 14 percent in 2012. However, the number of pedestrian deaths has been increasing since 2009, when it reached its lowest point. From 2009 to 2012, the number of pedestrian deaths increased 15 percent, while other motor vehicle crash deaths declined by 3 percent.

    The per capita pedestrian death rate declined 57 percent from 1975 to 2012 (from 35 to 15 deaths per million people). During the same period, pedestrian death rates have decreased 89 percent for ages 0-12, 63 percent for ages 13-19, 41 percent for ages 20-69 and 74 percent for people 70 and older.

    Reasons for the steep declines during the past 40 years are not fully known, but they probably reflect decreased walking, especially among children. Data from the census and national travel surveys show that walking trips have decreased since the 1960s, although they increased somewhat during the past decade. Pucher, J.; Buehler, R.; Merom, D.; and Bauman, A. 2011. Walking and cycling in the United States: evidence from the National Household Travel Surveys. American Journal of Public Health 101:S310-17. A 2001 survey found that less than 15 percent of children ages 5-15 walked to school and 1 percent biked; in 1969, 48 percent of students either walked or biked to school. Environmental Protection Agency. 2003. Travel and environmental implications of school siting (EPA 231-R-03-004). Washington DC: U.S. EPA. Traffic engineering improvements also may have reduced the number of pedestrian deaths.

  3. Who is most likely to be killed or injured in a pedestrian crash?

    Based on population, children younger than 13 years have the lowest pedestrian death rate of all ages — 3 per million people. Elderly pedestrians, although struck less frequently than children, are more likely to die after being struck. In 2012, the pedestrian death rate among those 70 and older was 24 per million people, nearly twice the death rate for those younger than 70.

    Male pedestrians are more commonly killed in collisions than female pedestrians. This is true of all age groups. In 2012, more than twice as many male pedestrians were killed as females.

  4. To what extent does alcohol contribute to pedestrian deaths?

    Alcohol is a major factor in pedestrian deaths. In 2012, 36 percent of fatally injured pedestrians 16 and older had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent. The percentage rose to 51 percent for crashes occurring between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The percentage of fatally injured pedestrians with high BACs is largest among males and those ages 21-49. Eichelberger, A.H.; Cicchino, J.B.; and McCartt, A.T. 2013. Profile of fatally injured pedestrians and bicyclists in the United States with high blood alcohol concentrations. Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety (CD-ROM). Brisbane, Queensland: Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety. Thirteen percent of pedestrian deaths in 2012 involved drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

  5. Where are pedestrian crashes most likely to occur?

    Most pedestrian crashes occur in urban areas where pedestrian activity is concentrated. In 2012, 73 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban settings, although there is a higher ratio of deaths to injuries in rural areas because of higher impact speeds on rural roads and reduced access to trauma centers. Baker, S.P.; O'Neill, B.; Ginsberg, M.J.; and Li, G. 1992. The Injury Fact Book, 2nd edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Seventy-two percent of all pedestrian deaths in 2012 occurred on major roads. Twenty-six percent of pedestrian deaths occurred at intersections. A greater percentage of older pedestrian deaths occurred at intersections when compared with deaths of pedestrians under age 70 (39 percent versus 23 percent). This is partly because older pedestrians generally cross intersections more slowly. Stollof, E.R.; McGee, H.; and Eccles, K.A. 2007. Pedestrian signal safety for older persons. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Diminished vision, hearing and reaction time also contribute. Oxley, J and Fildes, B. 1999. Safety of older pedestrians strategy for future research and action initiatives. Report no. 157. Melbourne, Victoria: Monash University Accident Research Center.

    Among pedestrian crashes of all severities, the most common scenario involves pedestrians crossing in front of a passenger vehicle that is traveling straight. Jermakian, J and Zuby D. 2011. Primary pedestrian crash scenarios: Factors relevant to the design of pedestrian detection systems. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  These crashes typically occur in daylight on roads with speed limits below 40 mph. A study of pedestrian crashes in Toronto from 2001-2009 found that the pedestrians were more likely to be killed or seriously injured when hit while crossing midblock without the right of way compared with crossing at signalized intersections. Rothman, L.; Howard, A.W.; Camden, A.; and Macarthur, C. 2012. Pedestrian crossing location influences injury severity in urban areas. Injury Prevention 18(6):365-70.

  6. When are pedestrians most likely to be struck?

    Fatal pedestrian crashes occur most often between 6 p.m. and midnight. They are more likely to occur on Friday or Saturday than on other days. An analysis of fatal pedestrian crashes occurring in 2007 discovered that they most often occurred during twilight and the first hour of darkness. Griswold, J.; Fishbain, B.; Washington, S.; and Ragland, D.R. 2011. Visual assessment of pedestrian crashes. Accident Analysis & Prevention 43(1):301-6.

  7. Who is at fault in most pedestrian crashes?

    In a 2002 study of pedestrian deaths in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Institute researchers determined that pedestrians were more likely than drivers to be at fault in these collisions (50 percent versus 39 percent, with the remainder having either shared or unknown fault). Preusser, D.F.; Wells, J.K.; Williams, A.F.; and Weinstein, H.B. 2002. Pedestrian crashes in Washington, DC and Baltimore. Accident Analysis and Prevention 34(5):703-10. Pedestrians were almost always judged culpable in midblock and intersection dash crashes, which are crashes involving a pedestrian who runs into the road or otherwise appears suddenly in the path of a vehicle. Drivers were usually at fault in other crash types such as when a vehicle is turning or backing up, or when a vehicle leaves the road and strikes a pedestrian.

  8. How can roads and intersection controls be changed to improve pedestrian safety?

    A 2003 Institute review of traffic engineering measures to reduce pedestrian crashes identified several main approaches: separating pedestrians from vehicles by time or space, making pedestrians easier to spot and reducing vehicle speeds. Retting, R.A.; Ferguson, S.A.; and McCartt, A.T. 2003. A review of evidence-based traffic engineering measures to reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health 93(9):1456-63.

    Effective countermeasures involving separation include sidewalks, overpasses, underpasses, refuge islands in the medians of busy two-way streets and exclusive traffic signal phasing that stops all vehicle traffic for part or all of the pedestrian crossing signal duration.

    Effective measures to help drivers see pedestrians include brighter roadway lighting, diagonal parking and relocation of bus stops at traffic signals from the near to the far side of the intersection. High-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) signals make pedestrians more visible to motorists by alerting drivers to stop at crosswalks across major arterials when pedestrians are present. The signals are activated by pedestrians and remain dark when there are no pedestrians. HAWK signals were associated with a 59 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes in a 2010 study. Fitzpatrick, K. and Park, E.S. 2009. Safety effectiveness of HAWK pedestrian treatment. Transportation Research Record 2140:214-23. Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons, which are yellow LEDs mounted to pedestrian crossing signs that flash in an irregular pattern when pedestrians are present, also draw the attention of motorists to pedestrians and have been shown to increase the percentage of drivers that yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Shurbutt, J. and Houten R.V. 2010. Effects of yellow rectangular rapid-flashing beacons on yielding at multilane uncontrolled crosswalks. Report no. FHWA-HRT-10-043. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.

    HAWK signal image

    HAWK signal in Tucson, AZ


    Higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with both a greater likelihood of pedestrian crashes and more serious pedestrian injuries. Effective engineering measures to reduce speeds in urban areas include construction of roundabouts in place of stop signs and traffic signals, traffic calming devices such as speed humps and multiway stop signs. Retting, R.A.; Ferguson, S.A.; and McCartt, A.T. 2003. A review of evidence-based traffic engineering measures to reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health 93(9):1456-63.

    Allowing right turns at red lights has been shown to increase pedestrian collisions at intersections, especially in urban areas, so curbing this practice in areas of high pedestrian activity should reduce pedestrian collisions. Zador, P.L. 1984. Right-turn-on-red laws and motor vehicle crashes: a review of the literature. Accident Analysis and Prevention  16(4):241-5.

    Extending the time available for pedestrians to cross at intersections with signals can be beneficial, especially for older pedestrians. Stollof, E.R.; McGee, H.; and Eccles, K.A. 2007. Pedestrian signal safety for older persons. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. A 2000 Institute study found that providing pedestrians a three-second head start through a leading pedestrian interval (a signal that allows pedestrians to begin crossing before the release of turning vehicles) reduces conflicts between pedestrians and turning vehicles. Van Houten, R.; Retting, R.A.; Farmer, C.M.; and Van Houten, J. 2000. Field evaluation of a leading pedestrian interval signal phase at three urban intersections. Transportation Research Record 1734:86-92.

    Pedestrian countdown signals, which show the amount of time remaining to cross the street, have been shown to reduce conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians at urban intersections. Eccles, K.A.; Tao, R.; and Mangum, B.C. 2004. Evaluation of pedestrian countdown signals in Montgomery County, Maryland.Transportation Research Record 1878:36-41. Special warning signs and pavement markings to encourage or prompt pedestrians to look for turning vehicles as they cross the street may help at signalized intersections. A 1996 Institute study found that sign prompts and crosswalk warning messages increased the percentage of pedestrians looking for threats from turning vehicles and decreased the number of conflicts. Retting, R.A.; Van Houten, R.; Malenfant, J.E.L.; Van Houten, J.; and Farmer, C.M. 1996. Special signs and pavement markings improve pedestrian safety. ITE Journal 66(12):28-35.

    In 2014, the District of Columbia plans to begin using cameras to enforce pedestrian right-of-way laws at crosswalks. In a survey of D.C. residents before the camera program was initiated, 47 percent of all residents and 60 percent of residents who had not driven a car in the past month supported the use of the cameras. Cicchino, J.B.; Wells, J.K.; and McCartt, A.T. 2014. Survey about pedestrian safety and attitudes toward automated traffic enforcement in Washington, D.C. Traffic Injury Prevention 15(4):414-23. The effectiveness of crosswalk cameras is unknown.

  9. How do most pedestrian injuries occur?

    Most pedestrians are struck by the front of a passenger vehicle. What happens next depends on a number of factors including the speed of the vehicle and the relative heights of the pedestrian, the front end of the vehicle and the bumper. For pedestrians struck by cars, the initial contacts are with the vehicle bumper and/or the front edge of the hood. When pedestrians are struck by taller vehicles such as SUVs or pickup trucks, the impact is higher on the body. Crandall, J.R.; Bhalla, K.S.; and Madeley, N.J. 2002. Designing road vehicles for pedestrian protection. British Medical Journal 324(7346):1145-58. Typically, larger vehicles mean more serious injuries and higher risk of death. Roudsari, B.S.; Mock, C.N.; Kaufman, R.; Grossman, D.; Henary, B.Y.; and Crandall, J. 2004. Pedestrian crashes: higher injury severity and mortality rate for light truck vehicles compared with passenger vehicles. Injury Prevention 10(3):154-8.

    Generally, with a young child, the bumper will strike the thigh, and the front edge of the hood will strike the torso. Ashton, S.J. and Mackay, G.M. 2004. Benefits from change in vehicle exterior design: field accident and experimental work in Europe (SAE 830626). Pedestrian Safety (PT-112), 119-27. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers. With an adult, the bumper will strike the knee, and the front edge of the hood will strike the thigh. At low-impact speeds (e.g., below 10-12 mph), these may be the only contacts, but at higher speeds, a pedestrian usually slides over the front edge of the hood and the upper body strikes the vehicle hood or windshield.  With larger vehicles, the pedestrian may instead be thrown to the ground in front of the vehicle. Crandall, J.R.; Bhalla, K.S.; and Madeley, N.J. 2002. Designing road vehicles for pedestrian protection. British Medical Journal 324(7346):1145-58. As crash speeds increase, the severity of the pedestrian's injuries is likely to increase. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1999. Literature review on vehicle travel speeds and pedestrian injuries. Report no. DOT HS-809-021 Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Injuries to pedestrians most frequently involve their heads, legs or arms. Ivarsson, B.J.; Crandall, J.R.; and Okamoto, M. 2006. Influence of age-related stature on the frequency of body region injury and overall injury severity in child pedestrian casualties. Traffic Injury Prevention 7(3):290-8. Chidester, A.B., Isenberg, R.A. 2001. Final report – the pedestrian crash data study, proceedings of the 17th international conference on the enhanced safety of vehicles. Paper 248. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.

  10. Can vehicles be designed to minimize pedestrian injuries in a crash?

    Vehicle design can influence the type and severity of pedestrian injuries. Modifying the front structures of passenger vehicles to reduce the severity of pedestrian injuries has been the subject of research for decades. Ashton, S.J. and Mackay, G.M. 2004. Benefits from change in vehicle exterior design: field accident and experimental work in Europe (SAE 830626). Pedestrian Safety (PT-112), 119-27. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. 2009. Global Technical Regulation No. 9, Pedestrian safety (ECE/TRANS/180/Add.9). Geneva, Switzerland. Daniel, S., Jr. 2004. The role of the vehicle front end in pedestrian impact protection (SAE 820246). Pedestrian Safety (PT-112), 99-117. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers.

    As a result of this research, regulators in Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia have implemented vehicle testing programs specifically aimed at protecting pedestrians. These testing programs focus on pedestrian interaction with the hood and bumper and in some cases the hood edge and the windshield. To perform well in these tests, automakers have been putting more room between the hood and engine, designing pop-up hoods that automatically lift up a few inches upon impact and designing bumpers with more give. Institute researchers conducted a series of head impact tests mimicking those used internationally with seven 2002-07 model small cars, and found that these tests were good predictors of pedestrian injury and fatality rates using data from police-reported crashes in 14 states. Mueller, B.C.; Farmer, C.M.; Jermakian, J.S.; and Zuby, D.Z. 2013. Relationship between pedestrian headform tests and injury and fatality rates in vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes in the United States. Stapp Car Crash Journal 57:185-200. While the U.S. government has not implemented a pedestrian protection vehicle testing program, it has participated in efforts to develop an international pedestrian vehicle safety standard.

    Crash avoidance technologies also may help prevent or mitigate the severity of pedestrian crashes. Forward collision warning systems continuously monitor traffic in front of vehicles and warn drivers of potential collisions. Some systems automatically apply the brakes when a crash is imminent. Most current systems are designed primarily to address front-to-rear crashes with leading vehicles in traffic. Some new systems are designed to prevent or mitigate crashes with pedestrians as well. The effectiveness of the systems in preventing or mitigating real-world crashes is unknown.

  11. Do education programs aimed at changing pedestrians' behavior help reduce crashes?

    Public education programs generally have not been effective in reducing pedestrian crashes. Based on systematic reviews of evaluations of programs aimed at educating children about pedestrian safety, education alone has had mixed success in improving children's knowledge or road crossing behavior. Duperrex, O.; Bunn, F.; and Roberts, I. 2002. Safety education of pedestrians for injury prevention: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. British Medical Journal 324:1129. Schwebel D.C.; Davis A.L.; and O’Neil, E.E. 2012. Child pedestrian injury: a review of behavioral risks and preventive strategies. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 6(4):292-302.  There is evidence that education programs for children can be effective when combined with traffic engineering improvements or other types of interventions. Turner, C.; McClure, R.; Nixon, J.; and Spinks, A. 2004. Community-based programmes to prevent pedestrian injuries in children 0-14 years: a systematic review. Injury Control and Safety Promotion 11(4):231-7.

  12. Does daylight saving time help reduce pedestrian crashes?

    Institute research has shown that extending daylight saving time year round could help prevent pedestrian deaths and injuries. Ferguson, S.A.; Preusser, D.F.; Lund, A.K.; Zador, P.L.; and Ulmer, R.G. 1995. Daylight saving time and motor vehicle crashes: the reduction in pedestrian and vehicle occupant fatalities. American Journal of Public Health 85(1):92-5. Adding an hour of light to the afternoon increases the visibility of both vehicles and pedestrians. Researchers estimated that about 900 fatal crashes (727 involving pedestrians and 174 involving vehicle occupants) could have been avoided during 1987-91 if daylight saving time had been in effect throughout the year.

  13. Do electric and hybrid vehicles represent a problem for pedestrians because of their quiet motors?

    A vehicle's sound helps pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired, detect a vehicle's presence and movements. Electric and hybrid electric vehicles emit less sound than vehicles with combustion engines when powered solely by electricity. A government study examined the crashes of hybrid vehicles and similar nonhybrid vehicles and found that the percent of crashes involving pedestrians was 35 percent higher for hybrids than for nonhybrids. Wu, J.; Austin, R; Chen, C. L.. 2011. Incidence of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes by hybrid electric passenger vehicles: an update. Report no. DOT HS-811-526. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The likelihood of crashing with a pedestrian was 39 percent higher for hybrids than for nonhybrids in areas where speed limits were 35 mph or slower and 66 percent higher when performing certain maneuvers such as turning, stopping and backing up. These maneuvers typically occur at very low speeds when hybrids operate mostly on electric power. The likelihood of crashing with a pedestrian on the roadway away from intersections was 50 percent higher for hybrids than for nonhybrids. 

    In a study of insurance claims for 2002-10 hybrid models and their conventional twins, the Highway Loss Data Institute found hybrids were as much as 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes with injuries than their non-hybrid equivalents. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2011. Hybrids chalk up more injury claims for pedestrians. Status Report 46(10):3.  Claims were assumed to stem from a pedestrian crash if they involved an injury liability claim without a claim for vehicle damage. 

    In 2013, the Department of Transportation proposed standards for equipping quiet vehicles with sounds to warn pedestrians about a vehicle's approach. Some manufacturers have already added noise voluntarily. For example, the electric Nissan Leaf produces an airplane-like whooshing sound at low speeds.