A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association finds that pedestrian fatalities are on the rise; the group estimates they reached their highest total in more than two decades last year. The report cites a growth of distraction—both for drivers and people walking.
Whether you’re walking down the street or driving down the highway, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes on the road.
That reminder is a nice piece of general advice, but it feels a bit more essential considering a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which reports a major surge in pedestrian deaths between 2010 and 2015. Over that period, 28,642 pedestrians were killed nationally—a 25 percent increase, far above the 6 percent increase in total traffic fatalities over the same period. Pedestrian deaths now represent 15 percent of vehicle-related deaths.
And, according to GHSA, the issue is worsening. In 2016 alone, the group estimated that pedestrian deaths rose by 11 percent, with increased rates in 34 states.
“About 6,000 pedestrian fatalities are estimated to have occurred in 2016, which could make 2016 the first year in more than two decades with more than 6,000 pedestrian deaths,” the association noted in its report [PDF], basing its estimates on numbers from the first six months of 2016.
In its report, GHSA suggested that a variety of issues caused the problem, including more people on the road because of lower gas prices, but gave special attention to the increased rates of smartphone use by both drivers and pedestrians. In comments to The Associated Press, the report’s author, Richard Retting, noted that smartphone use has surged, while other factors have remained relatively stagnant.
“It’s the only factor that seems to indicate a dramatic change in how people behave,” Retting told the AP.
One other concern that Retting pointed out was that more than a third of the pedestrians who died last year had a blood alcohol level above 0.08, meaning they would not legally be allowed to drive in their condition.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, so I’m not shocked very often, but that shocked me,” Retting said in comments to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Alcohol plays a very big role in pedestrian fatalities.”
GHSA, which publishes its reports to help federal and state governments, argues that they show that governments must take more steps to protect pedestrians.
“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins told the AP. “Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”