Study Blames Pedestrian Traffic Deaths on iPhones and Mary Jane

Woman Walking and Texting
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A new study concluded that smartphones and recreational marijuana contribute to pedestrian traffic deaths, according to a new report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association is a nonprofit organization that represents the country's highway safety offices and works to influence national policy and improve traffic safety. 

USA Today reported Wednesday that there were almost 6,000 traffic-related pedestrian deaths last year, with a sharp increase in the first 6 months after states with recreational marijuana legalized the drug. The report also listed growth in smartphone use as a contributing factor in pedestrian traffic deaths. 

The report, written by Sam Schwartz Consulting author Richard Retting, says that fatalities of pedestrians increased by 16.4 percent in Washington, D.C., and states that legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016. The study also found that there was a 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian deaths in the states without legal recreational marijuana.  

The report found that both pedestrians and drivers distracted by their cell phones were to blame for the increase. Other contributing factors were drivers and pedestrians who were under the influence of marijuana. Retting said about the findings that “It’s downright disturbing. People outside cars are dying at levels we haven’t seen in 25 years.” 

Spokesperson for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, Kara Macek, said that other factors contributed to the increased pedestrian fatalities, citing more drivers on the highway moving to urban areas. Macek said that the data shows a correlation between weed and driving, saying that the data is a "red flag" that needs to be addressed. She added that the GHSA has no position on marijuana legalization but that they do have a position on safety.  

Rebecca Lindland agrees. Lindland is an analyst for Kelley Blue Book and believes that pedestrians and motorists are to blame, saying, “We've got distracted drivers and we've got distracted pedestrians, and that is a deadly combination." She added that both drivers and pedestrians need to be more responsible.  

A statement published by the GHSA said that although the report doesn't definitively link the deaths exclusively to cell phones and weed, it acknowledges that "smartphones and marijuana" can distract both pedestrians and drivers, impairing their judgment and ability to safely navigate roads.   

The Report Shows That Most Accidents Happen at Night 

Green Walk Signal
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The study also found that 75 percent of the accidents resulting in pedestrian fatalities happen after dark. According to the report, there was also a 236 percent increase in smartphone use since 2010, which paralleled hospital visits related to accidents involving pedestrians and cellphones.  

Retting said that he is concerned because when both the driver and pedestrian are distracted, they can't see each other coming, and occurrences are becoming more common. The report suggested that lowering speed limits and adding more crosswalks with streetlights could be solutions that may decrease pedestrian fatalities.  

The report concluded that people under the influence of alcohol is still the number-one contributing factor to pedestrian traffic deaths. According to the executive director of GHSA, Jonathan Adkins, approximately one-third of all pedestrians killed in a traffic accident are legally intoxicated at the time of their death. Adkins said that driving or walking intoxicated is a recipe for disaster and that impaired people need a chaperone for safety, adding that people think that "they can make it across the street safely when they can't." 

Adkins said that it is unfortunate that the high pedestrian death rate has seemingly become a trend, with 2017 being the third year in a row with increased fatalities.