Everyone knows cell phones in cars can be deadly. And now, a new study suggests that mobile devices are killing more pedestrians, too.
A 10-percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of last year - the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths in four decades - may well be fueled by America's increasing distraction with mobile devices.
Lower gas prices and more road trips last year are other possible culprits, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association report. But the cell phone's iconic hold on attention could be having deadly consequences.
“There’s never been a 10% increase in just one year," said Richard Retting, co-author of the report. "Looking at cell phone data and how much is used — it's explosive; it's beyond an incremental increase and those could be factors that come into play."
Several recent studies have shown that people who use their phones when walking or driving have slower reaction times and pay less attention to their surroundings. With nine in 10 U.S. adults owning a cell phone as of January 2014, lawmakers have reacted by banning text messaging for all drivers in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to Distraction.gov.
The Governors Highway Safety Association report indicates pedestrians accounted for 15% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities last year, with nighttime proving to be an acutely dangerous time for pedestrians. Around 72% of traffic-related pedestrian fatalities occur after dark, and a third of those killed had been drinking alcohol, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Wearing bright clothing, staying alert and crossing at well lit crosswalks can prevent those accidents, Retting said.
In the first half of 2015, there were 2,368 pedestrians killed - a six percent increase from the 2,232 killed during the same time period in 2014. Researchers factored in the second half of the year’s warmer summer months for the expected 10 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the entire year.
Ohio, in particular, saw a 124% increase in pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2015, in comparison to the first half of 2014. But, four states – California, Florida, Texas and New York – accounted for 42% of pedestrian fatalities, even though they only account for a third of the population.
And three of those four states usually see warmer temperatures, Retting said, meaning more people are outside or walking around.
However, the research suggests an increase in walking isn’t the biggest factor in the increase in deaths, as a historic number of drivers hit the roads in 2015. U.S. motorists traveled 2.88 trillion miles by the end of November, making 2015 the most heavily traveled year in history, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
“There were more vehicle miles traveled this year than ever with lower gas prices,” Retting said. “And pair that with the economy improving and unemployment being down, there’s more discretionary travel time for going out at night, and taking vacations that might have been deferred in previous years. Sadly, a part of the price we pay is an increase in overall traffic fatalities.”