Over the last decade statistics show it’s much safer to drive than it is to walk. That’s the conclusion of a recently released report on pedestrian safety documenting the time period from 2007 to 2016, “The number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent … while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent.” Alarmingly, this is not just a medium-term trend, reports the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). In the U.S., “pedestrians now account for a larger proportion of traffic fatalities than they have in the past 33 years.”
The recent rise in pedestrian deaths has prompted concern and action from both policymakers and traffic safety advocates across the country… despite that concern fatality rates aren’t going down. Pedestrian deaths have increased over the past decade while other types of traffic fatalities have declined. Pedestrians accounted for 16 percent of all motor-vehicle related deaths in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2007. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which tracks traffic fatalities, more young people are being injured in crashes – although older adults are more likely to be killed. “We believe the increase is in large part due to distracted driving and distracted walking as well,” says Will Wingfield, the institute’s communications director.
It’s hard to say exactly what might be driving the overall rise in pedestrian deaths. One obvious reason is that there are simply more cars on the road. The number of miles traveled by vehicles increased almost 3 percent in 2015 another 1.2 percent the first half of last year, according to Federal Highway Administration data. Increasing cell phone use by drivers and pedestrians could also be a culprit. The total number of multimedia messages sent has more than tripled since 2010. “Those kinds of changes are very meaningful in terms of people’s eyeballs not being where we want them to be,” he says. The report also suggests a possible link with marijuana use. In states that have legalized recreational marijuana such as California pedestrian deaths collectively increased 16.4 percent over the first half of the year, while they dropped among states that didn’t legalize the drug.
It can be difficult to gauge the role marijuana plays in traffic accidents. One place that may provide a clue is Washington State, where marijuana was legalized in late 2012 and the first dispensaries opened in mid-2014. According to data from the Traffic Safety Commission, Washington State saw an increase in 2015 and 2016 in fatal crashes where THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana, was present in blood tests of either the pedestrian or driver. The totals, while higher, still remain relatively small. Additionally, THC levels can be detected days or even weeks after marijuana use, and Washington State’s data also indicates that between 70 and 80 percent of drivers found to have THC also tested positive for alcohol or other drugs.
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