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The 10 Deadliest States for Pedestrians in 2017

By: Bridget Clerkin December 27, 2018
A small uptick in pedestrians walking to work in 2017, as well as both drivers and walkers using smart phones on the go, led to similar statistics for fatalities from the previous year.
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Traffic fatalities may be on the downswing, but those who choose a bipedal mode of transportation are still as much at risk as ever.

According to the latest numbers from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), 2017 was right on track to hit the same historic highs for pedestrian deaths as the previous year.

Using hard data from the first 6 months of the year, the government group estimates that 2017 saw 5,984 pedestrian fatalities, an essentially unchanged total from 2016’s death rate of 5,987. Yet that tally in itself was troubling, representing a 25-year high for the figure. 2016’s traffic fatality rate was also a historic one, piggybacking off of 2015’s jump, which smashed a 50-year record.

According to the GHSA, nearly half the states in the union saw an uptick in pedestrian deaths for the first 6 months of 2017—though at least 20 saw that number decrease.

Still, it was 5 states in particular—California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Arizona—whose half-year totals really accelerated the calculation. All told, the areas accounted for 43% of pedestrian deaths as of June of 2017.

While the states all have larger-than-average populations and busy metropolitan areas that may help explain the totals, there may be other reasons for a particular area to see the unfortunate figure climb.

According to the GHSA, nearly half the states in the union saw an uptick in pedestrian deaths for the first 6 months of 2017—though at least 20 saw that number decrease.

The GHSA report notes the 7 states that had recreational marijuana laws on the books at the time—including Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington—all saw a rise in pedestrian fatalities in 2017, showing a collective increase of 16.4% in the first 6 months of 2017, compared to the first half of the previous year. States that had not embraced this particular green legislation by the end of 2016 saw a collective 5.8% drop in their pedestrian death rates over the same period.

The nationally-legal intoxicant alcohol, however, led to many more deadly incidents, involved in an estimated 33% of fatal cases where a pedestrian was found to be drunk, and an estimated 13% of cases where a driver had a higher-than-legal BAC.

Also potentially to blame is the astronomical rise of cell phone usage on the road—both for drivers and walkers. The GHSA study references hard figures from a number of groups showing a 236% rise in smart phones in the United States between 2010 and 2016, a tripling of the number of multimedia messages sent over the same time. This is also in parallel to a rise in the amount of cell phone-related emergency room visits in the US.

Of course, it could all simply come down to the law of averages: more people are taking to the streets on their own 2 feet overall. 2016 saw a 4% uptick in the number of people who reported walking to work, compared to 2007. And as the number of pedestrians on the streets has risen, so, too, has each annual total of pedestrian deaths.

Still, as of the first half of 2017, there were some states where a walker was likely safer than others.

NOTE: The ranking below represents self-reported figures from the first 6 months of the year alone, and the statistics simply represent the total number of pedestrian deaths that took place in a state during that time.

The ranking looks different when adjusted for population, which gives a true fatality rate, comparing the risk of death equally across the states.

Still, the raw numbers are telling in and of themselves, offering a grisly view of where pedestrians are dying overall.

10—Louisiana

The Pelican State recorded 68 pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2017, roughly a 24% uptick from the same period the previous year.

Helping lead to that 2016 total was the issue of lighting: 80% of pedestrian deaths in Louisiana that year—representing 266 of 334—took place in the dark.

9—South Carolina

The southern state saw 71 walker fatalities in the first 6 months of 2017, representing a 7.6% rise from the first half of 2016.

Again, many of those earlier incidents took place in the absence of adequate lighting, with 83% of the 2016 fatalities—309 out of 373—occurring at night.

8—Michigan

michigan road

A newcomer to the top 10 list, the Great Lakes State reported 74 pedestrian deaths between January and June of 2017—a 15.6% rise from where Michigan stood at the same time the previous year.

7—North Carolina

The Tar Heel State makes the rankings despite moving in the right direction. North Carolina saw 83 fatalities in the first half of 2017—a 15.3% improvement from the previous year’s total—which came out to 98 deaths during the same period.

6—Georgia

Georgia actually saw more improvement than its southern neighbor. The Peach State marked 92 walker deaths over the period, which was a marked improvement—at 17.9%—from the 112 who lost their lives during the same time in 2016.

5—Arizona

The Grand Canyon State was famously the site of the first pedestrian death at the hands of a self-driving car, which took place earlier in 2018. But it didn’t fare much better in the first half of 2017, with 113 pedestrian deaths—an 11.9% increase over the previous year.

Maricopa County, which holds the capitol city of Phoenix, was also the 2nd-most deadly in the country for pedestrians in 2016, recording 133 deadly incidents.

4—New York

The Empire State counted 115 pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2017, which actually represents a 14.2% decrease from the same time in 2016.

Still, the state’s walkers seemed to struggle at its nearly endless intersections. New York recorded the most intersection-based pedestrian deaths in the country in 2016, with a full 33% of that year’s total—or 294 out of 879—taking place at the corners.

3—Texas

Texas Sidewalk

Everything is bigger in Texas, including its population—which may be why the state saw so many pedestrian deaths in 2017’s first half.

Overall, the area reported 263 deadly incidents. This total was an 18.3% drop from the previous year, when Texas counted 322 deaths.

The Lone Star State also accounted for 3 of the deadliest counties for walkers in the nation in 2016, including 3rd-ranking Harris County, with 128 incidents; 4th-ranking Dallas, which saw 84 fatalities; and 8th-ranking Bexar, where 68 pedestrians were killed that year.

2—Florida

The Sunshine State is also home to a huge populace and a number of big cities where pedestrian fatalities are more common.

Between January and June of 2017, there were 303 pedestrian fatalities in Florida—a 1.3% increase from the same period the previous year.

And the state also had its fair share of overall contributions to 2016’s final tally, with Miami-Dade County ranking 5th-deadliest in the nation with 83 incidents and neighboring Broward County, which includes the city of Fort Lauderdale, accounting for 67, and ranking 9th overall.

1—California

California crosswalk.

Home to nearly 10% of the US population, it’s no surprise that the Golden State recorded the most overall pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2017. All told, 352 Californian walkers lost their lives between January and June 2017—which was, in fact, a vast improvement over the same period in 2016, when 433 pedestrians perished.

Indeed, 2016 was a dangerous year for walkers in California overall, particularly in the state’s southern region, where 3 counties ranked in the country’s top-10 most deadly: Orange County, at number 10, with 63 fatalities; San Diego County at number 7, with 71 incidents; and Los Angeles County, where 265 pedestrians were killed in 2016.

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