State of the States

Our first Dangerous by Design 2024 release took a national and metro-focused look at the crisis of people struck and killed while walking on streets across America, deaths that have increased by 75 percent since 2010. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native persons, older adults, and people walking in low-income communities are killed at much higher rates. Our current approach to roadway safety is not working.

To continue our exploration into how the design of our streets—designed primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe—is connected to this historic increase in pedestrian deaths, we are releasing this addendum looking more closely at state-level trends.

Why states matter?

States have a major role (and an opportunity) in stemming the tide of pedestrian fatalities. That’s because the most dangerous streets and roads for people walking are owned and managed by state departments of transportation. Within the 101 largest metro areas we analyzed, two out of three traffic deaths (of all kinds) occur on state-owned roads. Nationally, despite the fact that only 20 percent of the nation’s road network is owned by the states, 54 percent of all pedestrian deaths occur on these roads.

Design produces danger for all road users

Roads designed to enable high speeds where people and activity are present are the most dangerous type of road. Roadway design influences how people drive, providing nonstop guidance and visual cues that shape behavior and encourage high speeds. Many of the most dangerous roads have multiple wide, straight, high-speed lanes along with other design elements that send powerful, but unconscious, signals to drivers that the street is built primarily for moving vehicles as quickly as possible, even when it’s filled with numerous destinations and people walking to reach them. In addition, these multi-lane roads often have frequent curb cuts and driveways that put people walking in harm’s way. Many roads lack frequent crosswalks or signals to protect people crossing the street, or safe crossings are missing in the places where people most often want to cross. All of these design elements are focused on improving throughput or prioritizing moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible over the needs of other people using the road, like those walking.

Despite being designed primarily for moving cars quickly, these streets also serve as neighborhood streets, economic drivers for local commerce, and vital connections to work, school, parks, and more. They move a lot of cars through communities. But in doing so, they create substantial risk for the people who live in these communities who simply want to cross the street to get to a corner store, park, school, or other everyday destinations.

The good news is that actively designing for slower speeds can produce significant safety benefits, even with minimal impact on traffic delays and congestion.

The data in Dangerous by Design continues to demonstrate that the epidemic of preventable deaths and injuries for people walking is getting worse, not better.  Using a different approach to street design and funding decisions that prioritizes safety over speed is critical to solving this problem.

Notable Findings

New Mexico reaches top spot and historic levels. The rate of death (per 100,000 people) increased 65 percent over the decade from 2013 to 2022, from 2.53 up to 4.19. In absolute terms, these deaths have nearly doubled over that period, increasing by 90 percent. New Mexico is also getting worse faster than other states—New Mexico had the second largest increase in the rate of death (+1.03) when comparing average rates for consecutive five-year periods. To put that long-term increase in perspective, the total pedestrian fatality rate in the United Kingdom in 2022 (0.57 deaths per 100k people) was approximately half of New Mexico’s long-term increase.

All but two of the 20 most deadly states are getting worse. Only Delaware (-0.30) and Nevada (-0.09) in the top 20 saw improvements in their long-term fatality rate (comparing average rates for 2013-2017 to 2018-2022). The rest of the 18 most deadly states are growing more deadly.

Six other states are trending less deadly, though most with only modest gains. Rhode Island saw the biggest improvement of any state at -0.50. The other five states trending less deadly only saw modest improvements, with a -0.31 total cumulative decrease in MA, ME, NH, NY, and UT added together. While these decreases are relatively small, it’s worth noting that eight total states improved in this report, compared to just four in our 2022 report.

The top 20 shifts, but the song remains the same. While rankings have shifted around compared to our last edition of this report in 2022, the list of states included in the top 20 are the same.

State transportation agencies own and control the most dangerous roadways. Nationally, from 2018-2022, 54 percent of the deaths of people struck and killed while walking occurred on streets and roads owned by states.

Black people were killed while walking at rates higher than the national rate for all persons (with a minimum of 30 deaths from 2018-2022). Within those 27, 13 states have a rate that is almost twice as high as that national rate, or higher. (4.00 per 100k or above).


Ranking the most deadly states

This report includes pedestrian fatality statistics and ranks the most deadly states. All states are too dangerous. As with the 2022 edition of this report, we examine a five-year period (2018-2022) to get a broader sample size for each state. Long-term fatality rates are calculated by comparing the average rate for 2013-17 to the average for 2018-22.

RankStateAvg ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Pedestrian deaths (2013-2017)Pedestrian deaths (2018-2022)Long term trend in fatality rateShare of all deaths that were pedestrians (2018-2022)Percentage of pedestrian deaths on state-owned roads
1New Mexico4.173274401.0320%57%
3South Carolina3.416298780.8416%96%
16North Carolina2.2592611800.4115%60%
20New Jersey2.008139250.1930%48%
32West Virginia1.431161280.169%70%
34New York1.3714641368-0.1126%38%
36South Dakota1.2640560.329%59%
45North Dakota0.9329360.157%54%
47New Hampshire0.866059-0.0510%59%
48Rhode Island0.847146-0.5015%61%

Who faces more danger in each state

As noted in the metro/national release, people of color, particularly Black and American Indian/Alaska Native populations, are disproportionately killed while walking compared to the rate of death for all Americans. But this burden is even more disproportionate in some states.

Methodology: We report rates as the annual average deaths per 100,000 population for each group over the 5-year period (2018-2022). Some states had zero reported pedestrian fatalities for specific racial groups. Other states had very high rates primarily due to having a low population (eg. Wyoming has a Black pedestrian fatality rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people despite only having 3 black deaths, or 0.6 deaths per year, against a Black population of only 4,500). Average deaths by race and ethnicity that are higher than the overall average death rate for each state are marked in red.

Dangerous by Design RankStateOverall Avg ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Avg American Indian/Alaska Nativ ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Avg Black/African American ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Avg Hispanic/Latinx ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Avg Asian/Pacific Islander ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)Avg White, Non-Hispanic ped deaths/100k people per year (2018-2022)
1New Mexico4.1713.105.792.854.352.71
3South Carolina3.413.885.303.140.942.89
16North Carolina2.255.683.611.830.871.88
20New Jersey2.0003.402.051.461.75
32West Virginia1.4302.660.611.491.44
34New York1.3700.670.590.370.61
36South Dakota1.269.491.040.511.580.58
45North Dakota0.935.840000.71
47New Hampshire0.8602.160.3400.92
48Rhode Island0.8402.740.661.080.76

States are setting targets for pedestrian safety

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provided states and metro areas with historic levels of federal transportation funding. The IIJA was paired with promises of improved safety, lower emissions, improved condition of roads and bridges, and better access to jobs and opportunity, just to name a few. How will taxpayers assess progress on these indicators? One answer is found in something that happened nearly a decade before the IIJA passed. The 2012 federal transportation law (MAP-21) created a modest new system of performance measures for assessing progress. One of the required measures was for safety overall, which included a separate measure specifically for the safety of people walking and biking.

While there are no significant penalties for states that miss the safety performance targets they set, the process created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) allows people to see their state’s goals, which states are setting ambitious targets, and which states have met those targets.

13 total states set targets for more people to be killed or seriously injured while walking (and biking) in 2024 than were killed or injured in 2022. That list includes seven of the top 20 most deadly states in this report—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. 36 other states set targets in 2024 to reduce the number of roadway deaths and injuries from their 2022 numbers. 35 states in total are setting targets that are higher than their roadway fatalities and injury totals for 2010. (Note: Florida has set a target of zero deaths every year, while the number of non-motorized deaths and injuries have dipped below 3,200 just once since this performance tracking program began in 2020. They are the only state to do so.)

Improving coordination with state DOTs

This year’s release of Dangerous by Design found that, once again, the majority of pedestrian fatalities occur on state-owned roads. This isn’t surprising. These roads can be some of the hardest to make safer for people outside of vehicles because they were built or designed to move high-speed traffic through the area, even if they also need to provide access to local jobs, stores, schools, and other local destinations people access daily. It is impossible for a road to serve both as a main street and a state highway. What’s more, local Complete Streets policies or other efforts to address community concerns only have jurisdiction over local roads and may have little to no effect on roads owned by the state.

Smart Growth America has worked in a variety of programs, including our recent Complete Streets Leadership Academy, to improve collaboration between state DOTs and local decision-makers in the hopes of finally being able to move the needs on these deadly roads. Our experience has demonstrated that without action around the items below, we will never see the coordination required to significantly move the needle on pedestrian safety.

  • Recognize the scope and severity of the crisis and the need for new approaches: If state leaders are not willing to agree that there is a massive safety crisis on these state-owned roads and a need to challenge the (currently failing) approaches to addressing traffic safety, it is hard to see how we will have real progress in reducing fatalities. This may include re-thinking metrics of success and better-incorporating factors like the lived experience of community members.
  • Create new processes and policies to enable quick implementation and long-term systems change: Steps can be taken by both state DOTs and local jurisdictions to improve collaboration and the chances of successful project implementation. Joint efforts, such as those around a quick-build demonstration, can be used to identify priorities for change and demonstrate a commitment by the state to improve community safety.
  • Foster creativity and innovation at every opportunity: It is important to note that in many of the states SGA has worked with over the years, the willingness and resourcefulness of state-level staff varied greatly with those representing state DOTs at the district or regional level. A commitment to safety must be institutionalized so that every single staff member not only shares it but promotes it and feels comfortable finding innovative ways to improve the status quo.
  • Look for common ground: Interactions and relationships between city and state staff have a history of challenges—a lack of trust, all virtual exchanges, no clear person to contact, and counterparts are often viewed as an obstacle to tackle rather than a person to collaborate with. This is in and of itself is a barrier to change. Opportunities should be provided for state staff to engage in person in the spaces they are designing for and the people they are designing with. A shared vision for projects should be based on the intent and goals and not individual design elements that might be outside of existing guidance.

Case studies

For more examples of how states and local jurisdictions are working together to address the devastating trend of pedestrian fatalities, read our case studies on Kalamazoo, MI, and Seattle, WA. (Click on the images below to access the case studies.)


Kalamazoo and Michigan Case Study


Seattle and Washington Case Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided support for data analysis and synthesis used in the report under cooperative agreement OT18-1802 supporting the Active People, Healthy NationSM Initiative, a national initiative led by the CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Learn more: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.