States Step Up Efforts to Protect People Walking Amid Surge in Unsafe Driving During Pandemic

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September 29, 2021

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This year’s National Pedestrian Safety Month comes amidst an unprecedented rise in the fatality rate for people on foot

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the number of pedestrians struck and killed by drivers continues a decade-long trend in the wrong direction during the pandemic, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and its State Highway Safety Office (SHSO) members are marking the second annual National Pedestrian Safety Month this October by taking steps to address the behavioral safety issues that put people on foot at increased risk of injury and death.

“The spike in pedestrian fatalities in recent years is unacceptable,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “Nobody should have to worry about dying while walking. Vehicles are safer than ever for occupants thanks to design changes and new safety features, but the same can’t be said for people on foot. We must do more to address the safety of our most vulnerable road users by stopping the preventable causes of crashes – speeding, impairment and distraction – that needlessly put lives at risk.”

Earlier this year, GHSA projected that 6,721 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads in 2020 – a 4.8% increase from 2019 despite a drastic drop in miles driven. That’s an average of 18 people struck and killed while walking every day last year. And this trend of unsafe driving has continued into 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that a total of 8,730 people were killed on U.S. roadways in the first quarter of 2021, a 10.5% increase compared to the same period last year.

SHSOs and their partners work to address the behavioral causes of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, including speeding, drunk and drug-impaired driving, distraction, and not buckling up. SHSOs also collaborate with other state agencies to promote infrastructure improvements and road design changes that can better protect all road users. GHSA’s annual pedestrian safety report highlights numerous proven strategies to reduce crashes and injuries involving people who walk, including engineering, equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws, automated enforcement, and pedestrian safety assessments and road safety audits.

Examples of state activities to protect people on foot include:

  • A “traffic safety superheroes” event, sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety, where children dressed up as their favorite superhero and participated in pedestrian and bicyclist safety activities, including learning about signs and signals while biking and walking. In addition, the Go Human Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Program is working to reduce collisions involving people walking and biking in Southern California through public outreach, community engagement and safety infrastructure demonstration projects.
  • Street Smart NJ, a collaborative program that is supported by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, educates drivers about safely sharing the road through equitable enforcement of the state’s stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk law, grassroots public education and outreach, and pop-up and low-cost infrastructure improvements. Research confirms the campaign is sparking positive changes in both reported and observed behaviors by drivers and people on foot, and greater awareness of pedestrian safety laws.
  • Watch for Me NC, funded by a grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program, is a comprehensive program that uses public education, community engagement and high visibility enforcement to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths. A 2020 survey of state residents found the program resulted in increased awareness of the state law requiring drivers to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, which is helping to protect people on foot.
  • A Connecticut version of the Watch for Me program, funded by that state’s Highway Safety Office, is highlighting pedestrian safety facts and tips throughout the month, including during Halloween, an especially dangerous time for children. This includes a new campaign called “Pedestrian Rules” to increase driver awareness of new state pedestrian safety laws that will take effect October 1.
  • The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NM DOT), which oversees that state’s SHSO, is supporting Safe Routes to School programs that encourage more students to walk and bike to school. To ensure their journey is safe, NM DOT recently adopted its first Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which details what the department and its partners will do over the next five years to reduce the number of pedestrian-involved serious injuries and fatalities.

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About GHSA

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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