Bike Crash

Killing People Who Are Physically Active

Some of the questions we encounter here come with a lot of ambiguity, but this is not one of them. The U.S. is killing more people who are physically active – pedestrians and cyclists – than any other wealthy country. Clearly, this is not good. Without a doubt, this gives the U.S. a failing grade on promoting routine physical activity for its people as they move through their days.

More than in any comparable country, being a pedestrian or cyclist in the U.S. puts a person’s life at risk from accidental death.

Disparities Make It Worse

The picture is even worse if you take racial, ethnic, and economic disparities into account. Smart Growth America tells us that Hispanic, Black, and Native American persons are all more likely to die as pedestrians than White persons. For Black persons, the risk is twice the risk of White persons.

In low-income census tracts, pedestrian fatality rates are more than three times higher than high-income areas. And even though driving went down during the pandemic, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities went up. Again, this was a phenomenon that was unique to the U.S.

A Question of Priorities

While public health policies prioritize definitions for healthy foods and promoting physical fitness, this glaring problem goes right under the radar.

The problem is pretty straightforward. Unlike other countries, the U.S. prioritizes cars – not pedestrians or cyclists. Yonah Freemark, a research director at the Urban Institute explains:

“Other countries started to take seriously pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the 2000s – and started making that a priority in both vehicle design and street design – in a way that has never been committed to in the United States.”

Technology to make cars safer for pedestrians – like automatic braking to save lives – has been required elsewhere first. Speed limits, safe intersections, and bike lanes that protect cyclists have not received the emphasis in the U.S. that they do elsewhere.

This is fixable. The knowledge exists. Urging people to live more active lives while putting those lives at risk on unsafe streets simply makes no sense.

Click here and here for further perspective. For a recent study of disparities in pedestrian fatalities, click here.

Bike Crash, photograph by Alextredz, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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November x, 2022