Last year, pedestrian deaths reached 5,997 in the United States—the highest fatality count in over 20 years. While 2016 showed a sharp increase, it’s not a surprising one: pedestrian deaths have been trending upward for the last decade. In 2006, pedestrian deaths were only 11% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities. That number has climbed to 15% for 2015 and 2016.
Researchers who performed the traffic safety analysis (requested by the Governors Highway Safety Association) understood that part of this sudden climb in pedestrian fatalities was the improving economy and low gas prices—thus leading to more drivers on the road. In addition, more people have turned to walking for exercise and environmental consciousness. Alcohol plays a role in these deaths as well. Up to 34% of pedestrians and 15% of drivers involved in a fatal pedestrian accident are drunk at the time.
However, they don’t believe this accounts for a 25% increase in pedestrian deaths since 2010. For reference, traffic deaths have only increased about 6% in the same time period. The most likely factor that would cause such a sudden increase in pedestrian crash fatalities is distracted driving. The NHTSA even created a website specifically to raise awareness about distracted driving due to increased risk.
Electronic Devices to Blame?
While researchers did not compile research on why pedestrians are dying from vehicle crashes—they say confirming the cause of distraction is difficult—many allegedly blame electronic devices.
It’s not hard to see why.
Since 2010, there has been nearly 150 million more smartphone users worldwide. Apple alone sold nearly 6 times more iPhones in 2015 than they did in 2010. The number of drivers with smartphones has increased by over 30% since 2011. Smartphone use is fast transforming from a niche luxury into a utility.
Still, the study requested by the GHSA doesn’t provide confirmation of what is distracting drivers, only that they are distracted. Regardless of what researchers believe the reason to be, there is one thing that’s true: resources need to be poured into finding a solution and protecting pedestrians from harm. Handler, Henning & Rosenberg support any program to curb unsafe driving, such as End Distracted Driving.
As Jonathan Adkins—executive director for the Governors Highway Safety Association—put it:
“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways. Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”