Other’s Opinion: Distractions add to high number of pedestrian deaths

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Free Press

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

There are a number of factors that contributed to the deaths of 6,200 pedestrians in the United States in 2018, but not surprisingly distractions from electronic devices is fueling the increase.

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The number of pedestrians killed by vehicles hit a 28-year high and jumped 50 percent from nearly a decade ago.

Fortunately, Minnesota was one of a few states that saw a decline in deaths last year, although the two years before that saw big jumps in pedestrian deaths.

The report from the Governors Highway Safety Association says there are several reasons for the increase. More people drive when the economy is strong and gas prices relatively low. More people are driving bigger SUVs and pickups, which tend to cause more fatalities than when a car hits a pedestrian.

Alcohol use, among drivers and pedestrians is also a contributor, with 33 percent of pedestrians killed having a blood alcohol content above the legal limit for driving. While walking while drunk isn’t a crime, it certainly puts pedestrians at greater risk.

But the increase in deaths has risen at the same brisk rate that technology has been introduced into people’s lives. The National Safety Council notes that people using smartphone apps, texting and talking on their cellphone — while driving, walking or jogging — leads to more accidents and deaths.

Even talking with hands-free phones distract drivers. And an array of technology mounted on windshields and dashboards, including navigation and video devices, further leads to distractions by drivers.

Minnesota saw a slight decrease in pedestrian fatalities last year, after seeing about 60 deaths each of the two previous years. The number of pedestrian deaths in Minnesota are disproportionately suffered on the state’s Indian reservations, according to a recent report in the Star Tribune. Officials say more people travel on foot on reservations and signage, sidewalks and other safeguards are often lacking.

It’s been an unnoticed hazard that state and federal officials could help by supporting more safety improvements.

Municipalities also can improve lighting and make crosswalk improvements. And as more vehicles come equipped with pedestrian detection systems and auto braking, more pedestrian deaths should be prevented.

But it’s personal responsibility that is needed to reduce so many needless deaths. Walking, biking and jogging are good for people but jaywalking, being distracted by a cellphone or music and not paying attention while crossing a street increases the risk of being hit. And drivers need to do their part by putting away the electronics and paying attention to the road.