Walking is the most basic form of human transport and possibly the mode that offers the greatest overall benefits. Unlike driving a motor vehicle, it does not generate pollution and walkers derive physical benefits. The American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that roughly 4 million Americans reported having walked to their place of employment in the prior seven-day period. In recent years, the number of pedestrian-related traffic accidents has risen.
According to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), 2017 was the second consecutive year of historically high pedestrian fatalities, with nearly 6,000. Researchers have theorized that the high number of pedestrian fatalities is associated with marijuana's legalization for recreational use and the volume of smartphone users.
Jonathan Adkins, the director of the GHSA, referred to the last two-years of pedestrian fatalities as being “a red flag” and expressed hope that this does not become a “sustained trend”. The overall percentage of traffic fatalities involving pedestrians has spiked from 11% to now 16% in the last few years. During the first-half of 2017, fatalities among pedestrians surged in states where marijuana was legalized for recreational purposes compared to the year prior.
Richard Retting, a safety engineer with Sam Schwartz Consulting, pointed out that during this same period, the remainder of the country experienced a relative decline. He stated that no conclusive causal relationship has been found yet. The states where recreational use of marijuana has recently been enacted include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.
Russ Rader, speaking on behalf of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reported that automobile insurance claims in states allowing marijuana usage were approximately 3% higher. Dr. Denise Valenti, a researcher and optometrist from Massachusetts, claims that research shows drivers operating under the influence of marijuana may be up to “six times more likely to kill” someone in a traffic accident than those under the influence of alcohol. Valenti is involved with developing technology for determining “retinal ganglion cell function” that can be a tool for members of law enforcement.
There is little doubt that smartphone usage is highly distractive. The number of these devices currently in operation across the U.S. is estimated to have jumped by 236% between 2010 and 2016 and emergency rooms are seeing a pattern of patients visiting as a result of cell-phone related accidents. Richard Retting says his data indicates a strong correlation between smartphone usage and pedestrian-related accidents.
The GHSA is developing strategies to curb collisions involving motor vehicles and pedestrians thru enhancements in the physical design at intersections along with education and heightened enforcement. Washington D.C. has had continuous problems with pedestrian safety in areas of traffic. Alcohol use is a factor in nearly 50% of pedestrian fatalities. It is recommended that pedestrians travel in well-lit areas after dark and use a flashlight and/or reflective clothing. Pedestrians should limit distractions such as mobile devices or headphones while walking.