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America's Streets Are Safer for Drivers, But Not for Pedestrians

U.S. roads are safer than they've ever been for people who travel in cars. But has that come at the expense of those who travel on foot?
A roadside memorial
A roadside memorialScruggelgreen /

The continued decline in traffic fatalities is one of the brightest trends in public health these days, and according to the latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it continued in 2013, with the overall number of people killed on roads in the United States down 3.1 percent over 2012 numbers. Far too many people still died on the nation’s streets and highways—32,719, to be precise. But that number represents a remarkable 25 percent decrease in traffic deaths since 2004.

For people outside of cars rather than inside them, however, the news is less reassuring: “non-occupant fatalities” have gone from 14 percent of the total number of deaths to 17 percent over a 10-year period. The raw number of pedestrians killed by drivers did go down down between 2012 and 2013, but by only 1.7 percent, to 4,735. And the longer-term trend is not positive. In fact, pedestrian fatalities in 2013 were 15 percent higher than they were in 2009, when they hit a record low.