Last 2 Years 'Have Set Records' For Pedestrian Deaths, Traffic Researcher Says03:41
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Pedestrians use the crosswalk at U Street in lighter then normal traffic in Washington in March 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Pedestrians use the crosswalk at U Street in lighter then normal traffic in Washington in March 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
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Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed on American streets in 2017.

A report out Wednesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association puts some of the blame on people who are walking while texting, and finds states that have legalized marijuana have seen an increase in pedestrian deaths.

"You have to go back over 25 years to find a time in American history where that many people die in pedestrian crashes," Richard Retting, director of safety for Schwartz Consulting and author of the report, tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "The last two years have set records for modern times."

Interview Highlights

On the role of distracted driving, and pedestrians walking while texting

"Well unfortunately, smartphones are like a visual magnet, and people can't seem to keep their eyes off them. I don't wanna single out any one particular road user in this case. Drivers bear a lot of responsibility, keeping in mind that, even at speeds as low as 30 miles an hour, a driver looking down for a couple of seconds is essentially blindfolded and traveling more than 50 feet.

"Pedestrians, if they are distracted, add to that safety concern. Imagine a scenario where both a driver is looking down and a pedestrian is staring at a phone — they don't see each other coming. And again, we don't wanna jump to conclusions and say, 'That's driving all pedestrian crashes,' because it's not. But we've seen a surge in pedestrian fatalities since 2010 and that coincides with rapid increase in cellphone use, particularly smartphone use and multimedia messaging on those phones."

On many of the fatalities happening at night

"This has been a longstanding concern. We see in the most recent data, 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur in the dark. But likewise, again there, the glow of a cellphone on the dashboard of a car can be very distracting and cause drivers to not see what's happening right in front of their face."

"We've seen a surge in pedestrian fatalities since 2010 and that coincides with rapid increase in cellphone use, particularly smartphone use and multimedia messaging on those phones."

Richard Retting

On whether location plays a role

"There are variances across the states and across cities. So for sure, while for example on a national basis 18 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at intersections, the vast majority of pedestrian fatalities occur away from intersections, mid-block, places where traffic speeds are higher. But there are states — New York is one of them — where a larger proportion of pedestrian fatalities occur at intersections."

On drawing a connection between pedestrian fatalities and legalized marijuana

"This is the first opportunity that we've had to look at some early data. While there's no definitive link here in the study and we're not claiming a hard connection, it's curious that in the eight states that legalized recreational marijuana, there was over 16 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities, whereas all other states combined, there was a drop. So it could be an early warning sign that marijuana is having its desired effect in terms of people being less in the moment. Let's face it: People get high for a reason. It alters the state of mind."

This segment aired on February 28, 2018.

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