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Correlation is not causation, but the concomitant rises of smartphone use and deadly crashes involving pedestrians sure seem to be related.

This is a top-line insight from Governors Highway Safety Association’s latest Spotlight on Highway Safety report, which estimates that, during 2017, 5,984 pedestrians died after being struck by vehicles in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2017 Preliminary Data also shows that

  • Pedestrians now account for approximately 16 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, compared with 11 percent just a few years ago; and
  • The number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent.

Contrast this with the fact that since 2010, Americans’ self-reported use of smartphones grew by 236 percent between 2010 and 2016, and you get a clear picture of distraction by phone leading to deaths of pedestrians.

Admittedly, distracted walking accounts for some of the increase, but drivers texting, checking GPS and making calls seems like the larger factor. Another interesting trend found in the data points to a link between state legalization of recreational marijuana use and pedestrian deaths. The cause-and-effect, if it indeed exists, would be similar to staring at a screen: The drug reduces concentration, impairs the ability to recognize dangers and slows reaction time.

Virginia Beach and its neighboring cities just concluded a particularly gruesome month for pedestrians. While it is unclear from news reports if any of the deadly accidents my wrongful death attorney colleagues and I commented on involved distraction or intoxication, each surely resulted from an avoidable error or a solvable traffic design issue.

The GHSA report does urge states and localities to adopt several best practices for protecting pedestrians, making pedestrians more visible to drivers and reducing the likelihood for crashes. The recommendations include

  • Installing refuge islands to allow pedestrians to cross two-way streets one direction at a time.
  • Putting in sidewalks and bike lanes.
  • Constructing pedestrian overpasses and underpasses.
  • Putting up new traffic signals.
  • Increasing street lighting.
  • Painting crosswalks with reflective materials.
  • Putting in speed bumps and curb extensions.
  • Automating traffic enforcement with red light cameras and speed cameras.

A final thing to keep in mind when processing the GHSA report is that it only mentions fatal collision across the entire country. As personal injury lawyers, my colleagues and I know that pedestrians are always at risk from negligent, reckless and inattentive drivers. In Virginia alone, crashes left 1,571 pedestrians injured during 2017. Implementing the safety recommendations listed here and convincing drivers and walkers to pocket their smartphones are pressing necessities.



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