Pedestrian Safety in the US: A Slow Road to Progress

 In Vehicle Safety

Rising Pedestrian Fatalities

The number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States is on the rise. Over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities from car crashes have increased by more than 46%, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 of all motor vehicle tragedies. Finally, the government is taking action to protect pedestrians by proposing a stick and carrot approach.

A Government Regulation and A Driver-Assist System

The stick entails a new regulation that would require car manufacturers to implement a driver-assist system capable of stopping for pedestrians. This system would automatically apply emergency braking if a driver fails to notice a person crossing the street. The proposed regulation, if adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, would mandate that vehicles starting from the 2027 model year meet this requirement in order to be sold in the country.

In addition to the stick approach, there is a carrot incentive for car manufacturers. The proposal suggests incorporating pedestrian safety into the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which currently rates safety based on crash tests with dummies. The updated NCAP would introduce tests to evaluate the level of harm pedestrians would experience in a collision. Car manufacturers would be encouraged to design vehicles with energy-absorbing features, reduced hard points of contact, and front end shapes that minimize harm to pedestrians. However, passing or failing these pedestrian tests would not impact a vehicle’s overall star rating or be displayed on dealership stickers, limiting awareness among consumers.

Slow Progress

Comparatively, pedestrian safety measures in the United States lag behind countries like Canada, Japan, and various European nations. These countries have seen a decline in pedestrian fatalities over the past two decades due to prioritizing pedestrian safety in vehicle design. Research indicates that cars designed to protect pedestrians have a direct correlation with reduced fatalities and serious injuries. Unfortunately, the prevalence of larger and heavier vehicles on U.S. roads contributes significantly to pedestrian deaths, with an estimate suggesting that 1,100 lives could have been saved if cars had replaced SUVs between 2000 and 2019.

While regulators acknowledge the risks faced by pedestrians, their efforts to improve safety are progressing slowly. The proposed regulations, though a step in the right direction, may not be strong enough to prompt significant change. It remains to be seen whether the government will prioritize the safety of pedestrians on par with vehicle occupants and take more decisive action to address this growing concern.

Further Readings

To access the dockets about the two proposals described here see:


Also, to read more background information upon which this blog is based see

  • For more pedestrian death statistics, see for the more pedestrian death statistics
  • The German study of the effectiveness of the pedestrian protection rating system in Euro NCAP see: Pastor, C. (2013). Correlation between pedestrian severity in real-life crashes and Euro NCAP pedestrian test results,” The 23rd International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles, Paper No. 13-0308.
  • For the estimate of lives saved if cars replaced SUVs, see: Tyndall, J. (2021). “Pedestrian deaths in large vehicles,” Economics of Transportation, 26-27.

[An expanded version of this blog appeared on the opinion page of the Ahwatukee Foothill News on July 12, 2023.]

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