A new study from the United States shows that pedestrian deaths are increasing and now outnumber the amount of motorist fatalities. During 2016, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed, marking a two-decade high, according to state data released on Thursday.
More people are using the roads to drive than ever. There are numerous factors behind this increase including affordable fuel prices, better economy, and accessible vehicle purchase. The Governors Highway Safety Association says this puts more pedestrians at risk, which is why deaths rose by 11 percent through 2016.
The report shows that the biggest factor behind increased fatalities is that both drivers and pedestrians are more distracted, typically by a mobile device. However, no solid data for smartphone use in the car or on the sidewalk exists, so the cause is not conclusive.
How many miles people drive or walk has not increased enough to impact the sharp rise in deaths, according to Richard Retting, safety director for Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants and the author of the report.
"It's the only factor that that seems to indicate a dramatic change in how people behave," Retting said.
The study is based on data collected from all states and the District of Columbia during the first six months of 2016. Researchers took this six-month sample and extrapolated the results for the rest of the year.
Pedestrian deaths saw the largest annual increase in number and percentage in over 40 years.
"This latest data shows that the U.S. isn't meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways," said Jonathan Adkins, the safety association's executive director. "Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable."
Between 2010 and 2015, pedestrian fatalities increased by 25 percent, far outpacing the amount of motorists deaths during that time.
"We cannot look at distracted driving solely as an in-vehicle issue," said Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the safety council. "That discounts the impact distraction could have on pedestrians."
On the other hand, "walking is working," she said. "Just as we need drivers to be alert, pedestrians have to be, too."
The results of the study have piqued the interest of the National Transportation Safety Board. The US government group that recommends safety initiatives is currently investigating the causes of the increase in fatalities to hopefully create solutions.