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Pedestrians Are At A Higher Risk Of Being Hit By A Car During The Pandemic

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People were driving much less last year because of the pandemic, but the cars that were on the road were more likely to hit and kill a pedestrian. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports on the troubling trend.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Every day, Laura Pho walks outside her home and draws a chalk heart on the patch of pavement where her mother died.

LAURA PHO: You know, I can see it from my office window. And so it's nice to be able to see just these bright, beautiful drawings that remind me of my mother, who was also bright and beautiful.

DOMONOSKE: Lucy Le was walking last summer when she was killed by a neighbor backing her SUV out of her driveway. Some 6,000 pedestrians are killed each year - a huge increase from just a decade ago. Pho has one word for that.

PHO: It is a crisis.

DOMONOSKE: A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, or GHSA, found the pedestrian death rate soared even more in the first half of 2020. One factor is likely more speeding on pandemic-emptied streets, but other factors predate the coronavirus. After all, these deaths have been rising for years. Here's Russ Martin with the GHSA.

RUSS MARTIN: It's also lack of infrastructure. It's also safety of the vehicles that are out there on the roads.

DOMONOSKE: Popular trucks and SUVs are more dangerous for pedestrians than sedans are. The GHSA says about a third of pedestrians were intoxicated when they were struck, and deaths are more common at night and in warm states. This year, for the first time, the GHSA also broke out racial data and found Black, Native American and Hispanic people were overrepresented. That's based on several years of data. But Naomi Doerner, an expert on equity and transportation, points out a pandemic connection too. Essential workers who had to keep commuting are often people of color. And...

NAOMI DOERNER: A lot of those folks are transit riders or pedestrians, bicycle riders.

DOMONOSKE: So more vulnerable to getting hit - safety advocates emphasize that these deaths are avoidable.

AMY COHEN: And yet there is silence and no, you know, outcry that we need policy changes, and we need them now.

DOMONOSKE: Amy Cohen's 12-year-old son Sammy was struck and killed by a vehicle in 2013. Her group, Families for Safe Streets, advocates a range of changes from lower speed limits to wider sidewalks to end this crisis.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOSE WHO RIDE WITH GIANTS' "THE SAFETY OF THE STILL MOONLIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.