Distracted Driving: The Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

The problem of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on California roadways is bad and growing worse. That’s a fact, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).

In this article, we reveal the deadliest Californian cities for pedestrians, and discuss the factors contributing to pedestrian danger, such as speed limits, infrastructure, and distracted driving.

Pedestrian Accidents Are Increasing

Pedestrian accidents are a growing issue across the country, with deaths up 70% since 2010. California is no exception. In fact, numbers from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) shows California’s pedestrian fatality rate of 1.29 deaths per 100,000 people in 2022 is significantly higher than the national average.

Approximately one quarter of California’s deaths are pedestrians, and that number has been increasing every year. The California Office of Traffic Safety reports that in 2018, 14,000 pedestrians were injured, and 893 were killed. By 2021, the number of pedestrian deaths on our roadways had risen to 1,108.

Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians in California

Some Golden State cities are deadlier than others for pedestrians.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these were the top 5 cities for pedestrian fatalities in 2020:

  1. Los Angeles — 116 fatalities
  2. San Diego — 33 fatalities
  3. San Jose — 21 fatalities
  4. Sacramento — 21 fatalities
  5. San Francisco — 12 fatalities

A 2022 pedestrian safety report, published in Smart Growth America’s “Dangerous By Design 2022,” revealed similar results. This report was based on analyses of traffic safety data for 101 US cities. The report lists 10 California cities among those metros (note: the national ranking is in parentheses):

  1. Bakersfield (#7)
  2. Stockton (#9)
  3. Fresno (#10)
  4. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (#14)
  5. Sacramento-Roseville-Folsom (#27)
  6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad (#31)
  7. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (#32)
  8. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (#49)
  9. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley (#56)
  10. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura (#85)

Factors Contributing to Pedestrian Danger

There are several factors that contribute to greater danger for pedestrians, including speeding, poor infrastructure, and distracted driving. Let’s explore each in more detail below.


The higher the speed at which a vehicle is traveling when they collide with a pedestrian, the higher the likelihood of mortality. For example, the chance of a pedestrian being killed by a car that’s traveling at 24.1 mph is 10%, and that risk increases to 50% when the car’s speed is 40.6 mph, 75% at 48.0 mph, and 90% at 54.6 mph.

It follows that approximately 65% of all pedestrian deaths in California occur on non-interstate principal or minor arterial roadways. These roads typically have higher posted speeds and fewer places to cross the road safely.


As is evident in the ranking of deadliest metros above, urban areas are far more dangerous for pedestrians than rural areas. Approximately 90% of pedestrian deaths in California occurred in urban areas, and only 10% in rural areas. Considering that walking is more common in urban areas, and the concentration of vehicles and pedestrians is higher in these areas, this finding is unsurprising.

According to a synthesis of studies composed by the Federal Highway Administration, a number of infrastructural factors, both urban and rural, have an impact on pedestrian mortality, including:

  • Lighting: Poor lighting conditions increase the odds of being killed in a pedestrian accident.
  • Sidewalks: Locations without sidewalks are more than twice as likely to see pedestrian accidents than locations with sidewalks.
  • Traffic control signals: Intersections without traffic control signals or crosswalks are highly correlated with fatal non-motorized accidents.

Distracted Driving

The 2019 SafeTREC survey conducted by UC Berkeley asked 1,298 Californians to identify the safety problems they experienced while traveling as a pedestrian or as a bicyclist in the last 6 months. Just over 18% of respondents identified “Distracted Drivers (by cell phones)” as a safety problem.

But distracted driving encompasses more than just using a cell phone while driving. Distracted driving can include visual, manual, and cognitive distractions that cause a driver to take their eyes off the road, let go of the wheel with at least one hand, or take their mind off driving. In 2020, 587 pedestrians and cyclists across the country were killed as a result of one or more of these situations.

Have You Been Involved in a Pedestrian Accident?

If you or someone you know has been involved in a pedestrian accident, you should seek legal counsel immediately. Serious physical and emotional injuries can arise from these accidents, and you may be entitled to compensation to assist you with your recovery.

The team at Penney & Associates has decades of experience assisting people just like you with various personal injury claims, including pedestrian accidents. Contact us for a free consultation.

Read More
What Sets the Best Personal Injury Law Firms Apart?
Injured in a Car Accident in California? A Guide to Taking the Right Steps
Personal Injury Statistics: What Three Studies Reveal About California

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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