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Are Pedestrian Fatalities Linked to Smartphone and Marijuana Use?

Posted in Pedestrian Accidents,Personal Injury on May 2, 2018

Though pedestrian accidents make up the minority of all car crashes, they more often lead to fatal or permanently disabling injuries. Pedestrians who come into contact with cars often suffer fractures, TBI, soft tissue injuries, and even damage to the spinal cord. These injuries often take months, even years of rehabilitation. They’re also 100% preventable.

Public health agencies and advocacy groups routinely collect information about the underlying causes of pedestrian and car accidents. Unsurprisingly, driver behavior is one of the most common factors. Specifically, smartphone use and marijuana use have a profound effect on the number of pedestrian accidents, according to a recent study.

Background and History

Pedestrian accidents have been increasing in recent years. In 2017, pedestrians accounted for 16% of all motor vehicle accident deaths, compared to 11% a few years ago. 2017 marked the second year in a row that nearly 6,000 pedestrians lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents in the United States, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. In fact, their report suggests that this increase is likely due to increased use of smartphones and marijuana on the road.

The HSA’s annual report, titled Spotlight on Highway Safety, compiles data from the highway safety offices in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Using this information, they found that there were 2,636 pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2017.

Two Main Reasons For Increase in Pedestrian Fatalities

By analyzing causation data, they also saw two main drivers for the increase in pedestrian fatalities: cell phone use, and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

  1. The number of cell phones increased 236% between 2010 and 2016. Additionally, the number of emergency room visits related to smartphone use also increased as the devices became more prevalent.
  2. The seven states that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 saw an average of 16% increase in pedestrian fatalities. By comparison, states that do not have recreational marijuana laws saw a 6% decrease.

The Dangers of Cell Phone Use While Driving Or Walking

It’s no secret that cell phone use puts drivers and pedestrians at risk. Activities, like using social media, texting, and navigating with GPS, can greatly increase your risk of accident, yet drivers continue to use their cell phones on the road. Distraction.gov, run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states that sending a text takes about 5 seconds. At speeds around 55 miles per hour, this means you will travel 100 yards – about the length of a football field – without looking at the road.

Since cell phone use is so distracting, virtually every state has some statute on the books that ban texting or cell phone use. Unfortunately, penalties generally only involve a small fine, which does little to dissuade drivers from cell phone use.

Driving and Marijuana Use

Marijuana use also presents dangers to pedestrians and other drivers on the road. Recreational marijuana use can impair your reaction time and judgment, which affects your ability to take corrective actions to prevent a crash.

Unfortunately, many municipal agencies cannot effectively track and prosecute people who drive under the influence of marijuana. While some states have set maximum THC concentration limits, objective testing measures require a blood test. Unlike alcohol, which officers can quickly test via breathalyzer, marijuana lacks a non-invasive testing method.

The Bottom Line

Pedestrian deaths are on the rise, with a 5% increase in the past few years. Public safety officials believe that marijuana use and cell phone use are to blame for this increase. Despite laws prohibiting operating under the influence and distracted driving, pedestrians continue to lose their lives. These deaths are preventable. We must work together to create stiffer penalties for negligent drivers and protect pedestrians nationwide.

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