(NEW YORK) -- The number of pedestrians killed in vehicle crashes rose in 2020, despite fewer cars on the road amid the pandemic.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), an organization that represents highway safety agencies, estimated there were 6,721 pedestrian deaths in 2020. GHSA said the pedestrian fatality rate rose 21% from 2019 -- making it the largest ever annual increase.
"Reckless driving was really impacting pedestrian safety during the pandemic and that is mind boggling to us because we know that vehicle miles traveled dropped," Pam Shadel Fischer, GHSA's senior director of external engagement, told ABC News.
Kansas, Vermont and Rhode Island saw the highest percentage increases in pedestrian deaths. Shadel Fischer said the likely culprits were dangerous and distracted driving.
"Speeding is a huge factor in pedestrian serious injuries and fatalities," Shadel Fischer said. "We've got to get motorists to slow down."
The fatalities were more likely to occur in urban areas, primarily affecting people of color, she said.
"We're more likely to see pedestrian fatalities happen in urban areas where you're going to have that more dense mix of motor vehicles and people on foot," Shadel Fischer said. "Oftentimes there are issues related to socioeconomics, access to transportation."
Earlier this year, the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit focused on promoting safety in the United States, said despite a 13% drop in miles driven in 2020, the estimated rate of death on the roads last year spiked 24% over the previous 12-month period.
"We believe that the open roads really gave drivers an open invitation marked open season on reckless driving," Maureen Vogel, director of communications at NSC, said in an interview with ABC News at the time.
Despite the overall increases, GHSA found that 19 states saw decreases in the number of pedestrian deaths in 2020, with 11 states, including Maine, Hawaii and Delaware, reporting double-digit declines.
Shadel Fischer said educating motorists and pedestrians to share the road can help keep numbers down.
"It takes everybody working together. The onus shouldn't just be on the pedestrian, the onus shouldn't just be on the car driver, we have to work together," Shadel Fischer said.