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Why did so many pedestrians die in 2020?

When agencies began gathering data about traffic accidents for 2020, people expected to see much lower numbers than in 2019. After all, there were significantly fewer vehicles on the roadways across the country. NBC News reports that the preliminary data show that in spite of less traffic, there were more pedestrian fatalities.

Experts do not yet have all the answers for the 21% increase in traffic death rates for pedestrians, but they do have some ideas based on early information.


Where normal travel conditions included congestion and heavy traffic, the few drivers on the road in 2020 saw empty streets that gave some the inclination to drive faster. Speeding was a factor in many traffic accidents, and of course, a pedestrian struck at a higher speed is more likely to sustain fatal injuries.


Another temptation on the open road is distraction. Drivers without traffic around them may justify looking at a cellphone instead of the road. At highway speeds, a vehicle can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes someone to read a short text. Distraction often results in a high-speed collision, increasing the chances it will be fatal.


Because fewer people were able to go to bars and restaurants to drink in 2020, fewer people may have driven while alcohol-impaired. However, alcohol was a factor in about half of the fatal 2019 pedestrian crashes, so it is likely to have also been a factor in a significant percentage of the 6,721 deaths in 2020.

Sometimes, a judge will order punitive damages to punish a reckless driver for the behavior that caused the pedestrian’s death.