Pedes­trian deaths spiked in 2016; dis­trac­tion cited

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Joan Lowy

PedesWASHINGTON — trian deaths are climb­ing faster than mo­torist fa­tal­i­ties, reach­ing nearly 6,000 deaths last year the high— est to­tal in more than two decades, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of pre­lim­i­nary state data re­leased Thurs­day.

In­creased driv­ing due to an im­proved econ­omy, lower gas prices and more walk­ing for ex­er­cise and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors are some of the likely rea­sons be­hind the es­ti­mated 11 per­cent spike in pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties in 2016. The fig­ures were pre­pared for the Gov­er­nors High­way Safety As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents state high­way safety of­fices.

But re­searchers say they think the big­gest fac­tor may be more driv­ers and walk- ers dis­tracted by cell­phones and other elec­tronic de­vices, al­though that’s hard to con- firm.

Walk­ing and miles driven are up only a few per­cent­age points, and are un­likely to ac­count for most of the surge in pedes­trian deaths, said Richard Ret­ting, safety direc­tor for Sam Schwartz Tr a nsporta­tion Con­sul­tants and the au­thor of the re­port. Mean­while, tex­ting and use of wire­less de­vices have ex­ploded, he said.

“It’s the only fac­tor that seems to in­di­cate a dra­matic change in how peo- ple be­have,” Ret­ting said.

The re­port is based on data from all states and the Dis­trict of Columbia for the first six months of 2016 and ex­trap­o­lated for the rest of the year. It shows the larg- est an­nual in­crease in both the num­ber and per­cent­age of pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties in the more than 40 years those na­tional records on such deaths have been kept, with the sec­ond-largest in­crease oc­cur­ring in 2015. Pedes­trian deaths as a share of to­tal mo­tor ve­hi­cle crash deaths in­creased from 11 per­cent in 2006 to 15 per­cent in 2015.

“This lat­est data shows that the U.S. isn’t meet­ing the mark on keep­ing pedes­tri­ans safe on our road­ways,” said Jonathan Ad­kins, the safety as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. “Ev­ery one of these lives rep­re­sents a loved one not com­ing home tonight, which is ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able.”

Traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties over­all jumped 6 per­cent last year, push­ing deaths on U.S. roads to their high­est level in nearly a decade and erasing im­prove­ments made dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion and eco­nomic re­cov­ery, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased last month by the Na­tional Safety Coun­cil, a lead­ing safety or­ga­ni­za­tion. The coun­cil es­ti­mates there were more than 40,200 traf­fic deaths in 2016. The last time there were more than 40,000 fa­tal­i­ties in a sin­gle year was in 2007, just be­fore the econ­omy tanked. There were 41,000 deaths that year.

But pedes­trian deaths are sharply out­pac­ing fa­tal­i­ties over­all, climb­ing 25 per­cent from 2010 to 2015, ac­cord­ing to Ret­ting’s re­search. To­tal traf­fic deaths in­creased about 6 per­cent over the same pe­riod.

“We can­not look at dis­tracted driv­ing solely as an in-ve­hi­cle is­sue,” said Kelly Nan­tel, a spokes­woman for the safety coun­cil. “That dis­counts the im­pact dis­trac­tion could have on pedes­tri­ans.

“Just as we need driv­ers to be alert, pedes­tri­ans have to be, too.”

SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IM­AGES

A wo­man walks through a Man­hat­tan in­ter­sec­tion Thurs­day in New York City. Ac­cord­ing to new fig­ures re­leased by the Gov­er­nors High­way Safety As­so­ci­a­tion, pedes­trian deaths on Amer­i­can roads are climb­ing faster than mo­torist fa­tal­i­ties and reached nearly 6,000 deaths last year. This num­ber, partly at­trib­uted to phone dis­trac­tions and an in­creas­ing num­ber of walk­ers, is the high­est to­tal in more than two decades. Pedes­trian deaths climbed 25 per­cent from 2010 to 2015.

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