Three-Quarters of U.S. Pedestrian Deaths Happen at Night

Unlike in comparable countries, U.S. pedestrians are most likely to die in traffic crashes during nighttime hours.

2 minute read

December 11, 2023, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Intersection with stoplights at night with one pedestrian waiting to cross.

Emily / Adobe Stock

Building on prior research on the growing U.S. pedestrian safety crisis, a New York Times article by Emily Badger, Ben Blatt, and Josh Katz highlights the high number of deaths that occur at night. “In 2021, more than 7,300 pedestrians died in America — three in four of them during the hours between sunset and sunrise.”

This stands in contrast with other countries. “In places like Canada and Australia, a much lower share of pedestrian fatalities occurs at night, and those fatalities — rarer in number — have generally been declining, not rising.”

Researchers say that they largely missed this trend until recently. “Federal data that tracks every roadway fatality makes clear that the problem is not just about the behaviors and routines that happen to occur around nighttime (leaving work, for example, or going to bars). It is darkness itself that matters.” This is likely in part because pedestrians are harder to see at night, and “American roads also weren’t particularly engineered with this risk in mind.”

According to David Strayer, a psychologist at the University of Utah, “What has changed is the amount of technology that we’re surrounding ourselves with.” Combined with the pervasiveness of automatic transmissions, the proliferation of smartphones in the United States has made drivers more distracted, while the growing size of vehicles makes drivers less likely to see pedestrians.

The article details other potential factors, such as population growth in areas with poor pedestrian infrastructure.  Ultimately, the authors conclude, better infrastructure designed with these potential risks in mind could save lives. “A transportation system that’s safer by design — as in many European countries — might better absorb any one of these dangers. Distracted drivers are safer at lower speeds. People out at night are safer with well-lit crosswalks.”

Monday, December 11, 2023 in The New York Times

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