Why Are So Many American Pedestrians Dying at Night?

Sometime around 2009, American roads started to become deadlier for pedestrians, particularly at night. Fatalities have risen ever since, reversing the effects of decades of safety improvements. And it’s not clear why.

What’s even more perplexing: Nothing resembling this pattern has occurred in other comparably wealthy countries. In places like Canada and Australia, a much lower share of pedestrian fatalities occurs at night, and those fatalities — rarer in number — have generally been declining, not rising.

In America, these trends present a puzzle that has stumped experts on vehicle design, driver behavior, road safety and how they interact: What changed, starting about 15 years ago, that would cause rising numbers of pedestrian deaths specifically in the U.S. — and overwhelmingly at night?..

“I don’t have any definitive answers for this,” said Jessica Cicchino, the vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Ms. Cicchino, like many observers, has puzzled over how rapidly nighttime deaths have risen. “What is it that’s happening specifically in the dark?”

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