Smartphone use, alcohol and marijuana were among the contributing factors for the nearly 6,000 pedestrian deaths in the U.S. last year, a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report said Wednesday.
The number was similar to that for 2016, with both reflecting a rise in pedestrian fatalities in recent years, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"It’s downright disturbing," Richard Retting, director of safety for Sam Schwartz Consulting and author of the GHSA report, told USA Today. "People outside cars are dying at levels we haven't seen in 25 years."
About 75 percent of fatalities occurred at night, making “road illumination critical,” Retting said.
Just five states -- California, Florida, Texas, New York and Arizona --- accounted for 43 percent of pedestrian deaths during the first half of 2017, despite being home to just 30 percent of the U.S. population, NPR reported, citing the GHSA report.
The report suggests that the proliferation of smartphones, legalized marijuana use and excessive drinking were contributors to the deaths, but does not claim a “definitive link,” the Journal reported.
The reported number of smartphones in active use in the U.S. rose 236 percent from 2010 to 2016, said the report, which cited an increase in “cell phone-related” emergency room visits.
"We’ve got distracted drivers and we’ve got distracted pedestrians, and that is a deadly combination," Rebecca Lindland, a Kelley Blue Book auto analyst, told USA Today. "At some point in time, people both behind the wheel and walking in the street have to take responsibility for their behavior and put down the phone."
"We’ve got distracted drivers and we’ve got distracted pedestrians, and that is a deadly combination."
Alcohol use is a “clear factor” in the rising death toll, Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the GHSA, told the Journal. About a third of pedestrians killed in 2016 were legally drunk at the time, he said, while calling for public messages like those of anti-drunk-driving campaigns.
“If you’re too hammered to drive, you’re too hammered to walk, particularly at night,” Adkins said.
On marijuana, the report said there was a 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2017 in the seven states and Washington, D.C., that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016.
Based on the 2,636 fatalities that states reported in the first half of 2017, the report estimates 5,984 people died on foot last year from car crashes.
In 2016, there were 5,987 pedestrian deaths nationwide, the report said. From 2007 to 2014, the number of annual pedestrian deaths remained under 5,000, but has been trending higher since 2009, the report said.
The GHSA report also found that children and the elderly are “especially vulnerable,” NPR reported.
“We really have to have a much better focus toward pedestrian safety,” Adkins said.
In January, the city of Montclair, Calif., banned walking across the street when using a phone or headphones, while Honolulu has a similar law, USA Today reported.