PHOENIX – Distracted driving and walking is contributing to a 20-year high in pedestrian deaths, according to data collected in the first half of 2016 by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The preliminary report estimates that the 2016 total could rise to almost 6,000 pedestrian fatalities.
From January through June 2016, there were 2,660 pedestrian fatalities. During this time, 34 states saw increases in deaths. Arizona ranked as the third-highest state for number of fatalities per population, with 1.4 pedestrians killed per 100,000 people.
Almost 200 people were killed statewide all of last year, according to Alberto Gutier, the Arizona director of highway safety. There was an 11 percent spike in deaths nationwide over 2015, which the report attributes to a parallel increase in smartphone usage from both drivers and pedestrians.
Distracted driving is exactly what Kevin Isherwood, owner of Kevin’s Hot Dog Stand in Downtown Phoenix, sees everyday from the corner of Monroe Street and Central Avenue.
“I think most of the accidents would be caused if the pedestrians weren’t paying as much attention as they were,” Isherwood said. “It’s the drivers that are too late.”
In addition to distraction, the report cites an increase in driving because of lower gas prices, and an increase in walking for exercise as contributing factors to 2016’s fatality numbers. Though Isherwood said he wasn’t surprised by Arizona’s high fatality rates, he hasn’t seen any collisions between cars and pedestrians from his stand.
“It’s still slower speeds so I don’t know if they’d be fatalities,” Isherwood said. “But there’s a lot of close calls for hitting people all the time.”
Pedestrian deaths have been steadily climbing since 2009. According to the report, many states are increasing their efforts toward funding, awareness and education to keep people safer. Arizona is one of three states that received nearly $800,000 from the federal government to spend on initiatives to keep pedestrians safer, Gutier, said.
“It’s quite a bit of money to spend on awareness and education and enforcement on pedestrians to reduce the number of fatalities,” Gutier said.
The state will spend the $793,250 over the next 5 years, Gutier said. But as efforts are aimed toward keeping drivers less distracted, there is also an issue of distracted pedestrians.
“We have to have mutual respect,” Gutier said. “Pedestrians of vehicles in traffic and vehicles respecting pedestrians in right of way in or out of crosswalks.”
(Video by Natalie Tarangioli/Cronkite News)