'Dangerous By Design' 2014 Report

Older adults, children and people of color are especially at risk where cars rule the road

Three years ago the "Dangerous by Design" report noted that between the years 2000 and 2009 the number of vehicle-caused pedestrian deaths was equivalent to "a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month."

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Streets engineered for speeding traffic with little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on bicycles are “dangerous by design,” explains the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Smart Growth America program behind the report (of which AARP is a sponsor).

Newer data covering the years 2003 to 2012 is presented in “Dangerous by Design 2014.” The numbers haven’t improved.

Over the decade 47,025 people were killed while walking. ("That's 16 times the number of Americans who died in natural disasters — earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes," say the authors.) An estimated 676,000 pedestrians were injured, "meaning someone on foot was hit by a car about every eight minutes."


The featured attraction of the "Dangerous by Design" report is its pedestrian danger index (PDI), which ranks the country’s largest metropolitan areas — as well as all 50 states and Washington, D.C. — by their share of traffic deaths involving pedestrians. Among the findings:

  • The Southeast United States — which includes, among other states, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi — is home to the most dangerous metropolitan areas for walking. (For examples of what the region is doing to rid itself of such an unwanted achievement, see the article about Florida on page 10 of the report as well as the Complete Streets in the Southeast Tool Kit, which was released in March 2014 by the National Complete Streets Coalition and AARP.)

  • Among the places with low (i.e., good) PDI rates are Alaska, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

  • Populations at an increased risk for being killed or injured while walking are children, low-income individuals, people of color and older adults. The commonality between these groups is that many don't drive or have access to a vehicle.

  • Adults age 65-plus account for one in five pedestrian deaths. This high fatality rate can be attributed to, among other factors, the frailty of older pedestrians as compared to younger people, as well as to poor infrastructure and misguided safety measures, such as crosswalk signals that change too quickly for people to complete their crossing.

The report also provides data about the risks faces on varying types of streets (arterials, country roads, highways and roads with speed limits in excess of 40 mph). In addition to a national report, the coalition has produced state-specific documents.


A high PDI and top rank (such as this year’s high of 244.28 in 1st place Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla.) is not a good rating. However, a bad PDI can inspire a community to examine why its numbers are so poor and what can be done to improve public safety.

As the report’s authors explain, the problems caused by roadways that are too fast, too wide and/or too lacking in pedestrian infrastructure (sidewalks, crosswalks, etc.) can be solved with a will, a way and proper funding.  

Although pedestrian fatalities are typically labeled accidents, the National Complete Streets Coalition says "we can prevent the majority of them by taking deliberate steps, through better policy, design, practice and regulation." The report presents ways Congress can take the lead in improving pedestrian safety and how, whether or not Congress acts, state governments have the ability to improve pedestrian safety themselves.

Additional materials include information about available design standards and other resources for design professionals, such as guidance about how to plan, design and reconstruct vehicle roadways that are also pedestrian friendly.

Research published May 2014
Summary by Melissa Stanton

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