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Report: U.S. Pedestrian Fatalities Spiked to 40-Year High in 2021

Low angle view of a pedestrian crosswalk sign in Atlanta, Georgia

Negligent drivers continue to put people on foot at risk of injury and death

According to a troubling new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the U.S. recorded its highest number of pedestrian deaths in four decades, as 7,485 people tragically lost their lives on the nation's roadways in 2021.

That's about 20 deaths per day, which represents an 11% increase over 2020 when there were 6,711 pedestrian fatalities.

“This is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “We must address the root causes of the pedestrian safety crisis – speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors, inadequate infrastructure, and roads designed for vehicle speed instead of safety – to reverse this trend and ensure people can walk safely.”

The injuries sustained in pedestrian accidents are typically severe and often life-threatening. Without the protection of an enclosed vehicle that's equipped with safety features like seat belts and airbags, people who are hit by cars bear the full brunt of the impact from the vehicle.

To make matters worse, drivers who cause pedestrian accidents often flee the scene of the crash, abandoning the victim in a potentially dangerous situation where they are at risk of further harm.

Pedestrian accident statistics

In its report, the GHSA reviewed 2020 crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Among the key findings were:

  • Pedestrians represented 17% of all traffic fatalities in 2020.
  • The majority of pedestrian fatalities occurred at night (76% of deaths with a known lighting condition were at night).
  • Over two-thirds of pedestrian deaths happened in areas where there was no sidewalk.
  • The percentage of pedestrian fatalities among children under 15 doubled from 5.8% to 11.9% from 2018 to 2020.
  • Passenger cars were involved in 40% of all fatal pedestrian accidents, while SUVs were involved in about 20%.
  • Fatal pedestrian accidents involving SUVs continue to rise, as the higher vehicle hood on an SUV impacts more of a person's body in the event of a collision. Often, instead of falling on top of a vehicle's hood and rolling off, pedestrians who are hit by SUVs are thrown onto the pavement and are put at risk of being run over.

Pedestrians continue to make up far too high a percentage of all roadway deaths. You can protect yourself to an extent by always using crosswalks, which are there for your protection. You should also do your best to make yourself visible to other drivers and never dart out into the street from behind a parked vehicle. Always pay attention when you're walking and avoid distractions (e.g., texting or looking down at your phone while you're walking), and don't forget, if you can't see the driver of a vehicle, there's a good chance they can't see you either.

Nevertheless, the safety of pedestrians largely lies in the hands of motorists. As a driver, you need to always be mindful of your surroundings and remain attentive. Always stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk or where pedestrian crossing signs are posted, and never go around a driver who is stopped at a crosswalk (they may be stopped so a pedestrian can cross the street). Lastly, watch your speed and be prepared to stop when making a turn or entering a crosswalk.

In Georgia, pedestrians are being killed on interstates at an alarming rate

Walkability is a serious issue throughout Metro Atlanta and parts of Georgia, but fatal pedestrian accidents that occur on interstates have also become a big problem.

According to a news report by WXIA-TV, there have been more than 1,500 pedestrian fatalities on Georgia interstates in the last five years, including 200 deaths in 2019, 301 in 2020, and 350 in 2021.

In response to the dramatic rise, representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation urged drivers to remain in their vehicles if they break down while driving on an interstate.

“The second you leave the protection of your vehicle you dramatically increase your chance of extreme injury or death,” GDOT’s Natalie Dale said. “You are going to lose if you do not have the protection of a vehicle, if it is just your body being hit by a vehicle at the high speeds that cars go on our interstates.”

Recently, a 44-year-old man was hit and killed by a truck on I-75. Marietta police say the victim was attempting to cross the interstate at the time of the collision.

Traffic safety officials say whether you're dealing with a flat tire or a car accident, try to use the emergency lane and remain inside your vehicle if possible. Then, call 911 and wait for law enforcement to assist you.

Review your legal rights with a pedestrian accident attorney

Maybe you were trying to cross the street when you were hit by a negligent driver who was speeding, impaired, distracted, or otherwise engaging in reckless behavior. Or it could be that you were hit by a car and the driver fled the scene of the crash. In either case, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages—and a pedestrian accident lawyer can help you navigate the process from start to finish.

If you were hit by a car or a loved one died in a pedestrian accident, it's in your interest to seek legal help. You may be entitled to compensation for all your losses, but if it's up to the insurance company, your claim will get settled as quickly and as cheaply as possible—or denied entirely. That means you could end up losing out on the compensation you need and deserve.

At the Law Offices of Gary Martin Hays & Associates, we're here to answer your questions and go over your legal options. Since 1993, we've helped Georgia families recover over $1 billion, and we look forward to seeing how we can help you.

For a free, confidential case evaluation with an experienced Atlanta pedestrian accident attorney, contact us today. Our offices are located in Atlanta, Duluth, Lithonia, College Park, Marietta, Gainesville, and Conyers.

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