Runners, perforce, spend a lot of the time on roads. And they share the highway with all manner of traffic. It can be a deadly combination.
The chance that you will be hit and killed by a motor vehicle when out running or walking is small. But it is not zero.
More than 4,000 runners, joggers, hikers and other pedestrians die in traffic accidents each year in America. That is one in seven of all traffic-accident fatalities and works out to 1.51 deaths for every 100,000 people in the U.S.
It doesn’t sound like a lot when put like that, but each one is an individual tragedy. The typical victim is a 45- to 54-year-old man hit by the front of a car or SUV driving on a minor arterial road between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on a weekday. Commonly the runner or walker didn’t have the right of way and was inconspicuously dressed.
Fatality rates vary greatly from state to state. Florida’s, the highest by our measure, is more than five times greater than that of the least dangerous state for runners and walkers, Nebraska. To see how your state's safety stacks up, explore our interactive 50-state map.
To work out how risky each state is to runners, joggers, hikers and other pedestrians, we retrieved the annual number of deaths for that group in each state from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We then calculated the fatality rate for every 100,000 of the state’s resident population. We averaged the most recent five years of data available (2008-2012) to smooth year-to-year variations given the relatively small numbers of deaths involved.
Delaware, for example, has been as low as tenth and as high as first in the annual fatality-rate league table over the past five years. Pedestrians under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs constitute the state's biggest group of fatalities by far, making the number of deaths highly volatile year-to-year. It regularly rises by a half or falls by a quarter from the previous year, disguising the trend increase in the fatality rate of 8% over the five years.
Delaware ranks second behind Florida in our list of the most dangerous states, followed by South Carolina and Louisiana, New Mexico and Arizona. All have fatality rates of more than two deaths per 100,000 residents.
At the other end of the table, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Idaho all had fatality rates of less than 0.7 deaths per 100,000 of the resident population. Nebraska is standout at 0.45 deaths per 100,000 of the population.
Many of the states among our ten most deadly have heavily concentrated urban and suburban populations. They have more traffic, particularly commuter traffic, moving faster. Or they are among the poorest states in the nation, thus less able to afford the infrastructure to separate runners and walkers from moving traffic. Installing wider sidewalks, multi-use paths for runners, walkers and cyclists, and other measures make cities more pedestrian-friendly.
If there is a silver lining to these numbers it is that the fatality rates nationally for runners, joggers, hikers and other pedestrians involved in traffic accidents have been falling slowly, even as miles driven have increased. The decline is most pronounced for children, who have seen a two-thirds decline since 1994 in their number being killed on the roads since 1994.
That masks a much slower decline in adult runner and walker road deaths. Eight states have seen an increase in overall fatality rates over the most recent five years we have analyzed, though every state has seen some decline over 15 years.
In many of the ten most deadly states, state governments have taken initiatives to improve pedestrian safety. Nevada (#10) and New Mexico (#5) have halved their fatality rates for runners and walkers over 15 years. Arizona (#6) has cut its by two-fifths, Florida (#1) and North Carolina (#8) by almost one-third and South Carolina (#3) and Maryland (#7) by one-fifth.
Even in cities now being designed for greater pedestrian safety our advice remains to be sensible and be seen when you are out on the roads.