For the second year in a row, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2017, according to projections from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which further suggests the high numbers could be linked to increased use of both cell phones and marijuana.
Pedestrians now account for approximately 16 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, compared with 11 percent a few years ago.
“Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community. These high levels are no longer a blip but unfortunately a sustained trend,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins explains.
GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety uses preliminary data provided by the highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting analyzed the data and authored the report.
States reported a total of 2,636 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017. Adjusting the raw data based on past data trends, GHSA projects that pedestrian deaths in 2017 will total 5,984, essentially unchanged from 2016, in which 5,987 people on foot lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes.
According to the report’s authors, two recent trends present a correlation with rising pedestrian fatalities: the growth in smartphone use nationally and the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states. While the report does not find or imply a definitive link between these factors and pedestrian deaths, both smartphones and marijuana can impair the ability to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot, the report adds.
The reported number of smartphones in active use in the U.S. increased 236 percent from 2010 to 2016, and the number of cell phone-related emergency room visits is increasing as the devices become more prevalent in daily life.
The seven states and D.C. that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 experienced a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017, while all other states saw a combined 5.8 percent decrease.
“This preliminary 2017 data is the first opportunity to look at marijuana-impairment as a possible contributing factor in pedestrian deaths, given the recent law changes,” noted report author Retting. “It’s critical to use this early data to look for potential warning signs.”
The National Safety Council said it is discouraged by the second consecutive year of record-high numbers of pedestrian deaths. The findings dovetail with a nationwide leveling off of all motor vehicle-related deaths, according to preliminary estimates released by the council earlier this month.