Rise in pedestrian deaths may be due to texting while walking

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation announced steps Monday to combat a recent rise in pedestrian deaths that it said was partially due to what Secretary Anthony Foxx called “distracted walking.”

Walking while texting or listening to music, or while on drugs, may have contributed to the increase, Foxx said.

“Distracted driving, distracted walking, if that can be a phrase. … Their behaviors as they are driving or walking can impact our ability to keep people safe,” Foxx said.


After decades of fewer pedestrians being killed in traffic crashes, deaths rose from 4,109 in 2009 to 4,432 in 2011, and 69,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have the highest percentage of pedestrians killed relative to all traffic deaths. Pedestrians comprise 51% of all motor vehicle deaths in New York, 42% in Los Angeles and 30% in Chicago.

The top 22 cities with deaths far greater than the national average have until Aug. 30 to apply for a total of $2 million in safety grants.

Foxx said the answer was more enforcement and education, like a pedestrian safety campaign.

“Everyone in America is a pedestrian,” Foxx said. “Every pedestrian death is one too many.”

Foxx’s plan includes a pedestrian advocacy summit this fall with the national nonprofit America Walks, a coalition of groups working to improve conditions for pedestrians.


“We need everyone to play a role in pedestrian safety,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, emphasizing that drivers and pedestrians needed to better follow driving laws.

More than 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2011 after being injured while using a portable electronic device like a cellphone, according to a recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report.

The Department of Transportation’s data show that 3 out of 4 pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, and more than 2 out of 3 happen at non-intersections. More than 70% happen at night, with a third of the deaths occurring between 8 p.m. and midnight.

Alcohol was involved in half of traffic crashes resulting in pedestrian fatalities, and 37% of pedestrians had a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit, compared with 13% of drivers involved in crashes.