2023 Feature, Medium Newsroom finalist

Deadliest Road in America

About the Project

America is a nation of drivers. Our culture of driving is so ingrained that most of us don’t stop to consider whether the destruction caused by crashes each year is normal. It’s not. The United States already had a traffic fatality rate higher than comparable high-income countries; during the pandemic, the problem only got worse.

To determine the country’s most dangerous road for pedestrians, Vox senior correspondent Marin Cogan started with a study by Robert Schneider at the University of Wisconsin-Miluakee identifying fatality hotspots over two eight-year stretches, from 2000-2016. Going through the data, Cogan noticed one road in particular, in one Florida county, came up again and again: US-19. To get a better picture of the number of fatalities on the road since 2016, Cogan used open source GIS data from the Florida Department of Transportation’s website to track and map pedestrian fatalities in the intervening six years.

Cogan then went to New Port Richey, Florida, to investigate how this particular road came to be so deadly, and what that can teach us about American roads more broadly. She spoke to those affected by pedestrian deaths, providing a heart-wrenching portrait of what happens when infrastructure fails us.

She also worked with data editor Youyou Zhou to transform the data into maps and charts that visually demonstrated the scope of the deaths. Photo editor Bita Honarvar found a photographer who could use an aerial drone to visually demonstrate the design problems that make the road so dangerous. The resulting story makes heavy use of both visual images and data to inform readers.

Cogan took an oft-overlooked subject and came up with a creative frame, and a form of storytelling, that got readers to care about a problem that is hidden in plain sight. She was one of the first national journalists to draw attention to a problem that had grown much worse during the pandemic, noting that the pedestrian fatality rate rose 21 percent over the year before in 2020, and reached historic levels in 2021; she was also the first journalist to use research to identify why US-19 was the most dangerous road for pedestrians, and to offer readers compelling explanations as to why fatalities were increasing.