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Verify: Yes, pedestrian deaths are at a 30-year high

According to the latest national data, more pedestrians died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 than any year since 1989.

WASHINGTON — After the first coronavirus lockdowns went into place in early 2020, road traffic dropped dramatically. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported a 13.2% decrease in miles traveled on the road in 2020 compared to 2019. 

Despite there being fewer cars on the road, traffic safety advocates said the roads were the deadliest they have been for pedestrians since the late 1980s. 


Are pedestrian deaths higher than they have been in decades?


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Statistics Data
  • Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA)


Yes, based on the latest data, which does not include 2021, pedestrian deaths were higher in 2020 than they have been since 1989 or 1988.


The CDC and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) both track pedestrian deaths using slightly different sources. The CDC compiles death records, while NHTSA pulls data from police crash reports, hospital medical reports, and other state records.

Because of their different sources, the numbers they report every year are a bit different. However, when it comes to the last 30 years, they both show the highest number of pedestrian deaths in 2020. 

Data provided to WUSA9 from a CDC spokesperson lists the number of unintentional motor vehicle-pedestrian deaths from 1981 to 2020. The data lists 7,005 deaths in 2020, the highest number since 1988. The population-adjusted rate of 2.13 in 2020 is the highest since 1995.

The NHTSA released its 2020 motor vehicle crash report on March 2. It reports that 6,516 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2020, the most since 1989 when the agency said 6,556 pedestrians were killed. NHTSA says pedestrian deaths made up 20% of all traffic fatalities. In 2011, that rate was 16%.

Neither organization has released preliminary 2021 data, as it often takes government agencies several months, sometimes a year, to verify and finalize death data. 

Rates of pedestrian fatalities follow a similar path in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Metro Police Department told WUSA9 there were 17 pedestrian deaths in the District in 2021, the highest since 2007. 

MPD's website reports 6 traffic fatalities by Mar 11, 2021. After a fatal crash in Northwest on Mar 11, 2022, the total by that same date a year later is now 8.

A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles said 125 pedestrians were killed in crashes in the commonwealth. That's the highest number in the data, which only goes back to 2001.

In Maryland however, the Department of Transportation said 129 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2021. Based on NHTSA data, that number is down from a high of 131 in 2018 and 2020.

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