Pedestrian deaths rose!

Pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents have reached levels not seen in years. Several possible causes, include digital distractions and an increase in driving. Now another: marijuana.

Over the first six months of 2017, pedestrian fatalities rose sharply from a year earlier in states that had legalized recreational marijuana. In the rest of the country, such deaths declined.  Pedestrian deaths are far higher than a decade ago, both in sheer numbers and as a share of traffic fatalities. In 2016, the last full year for which the safety association has data, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed, 16 percent of the overall traffic toll.

Many factors can cause traffic deaths to rise.

People are driving more when the economy is growing, Populations are rising in urban areas where most pedestrian fatalities occur, and cities are more congested.

But this year, the numbers for states that legalized recreational marijuana between 2012 and 2016

— Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia, did likewise.

In Alaska and Maine, pedestrian deaths are so few that any changes may not be statistically sufficient to identify a clear connection to the drug. Even in Colorado, a 12 percent jump
in pedestrian deaths meant the total rose to 37 in the first half of last year, from 33 in 2016. Massachusetts was the only state in the group where such deaths decreased — by one.
I’d be cautious about drawing a direct link to any potential cause, but it’s certainly worth trying to
figure out why those numbers are what they are. Among the unanswered questions is whether
and to what extent any link reflects marijuana use by drivers, pedestrians or both.

The number of miles driven and the number of walking trips that people take have increased, but not enough to account for a 10 percent jump in pedestrian deaths. At the same time, the number of smartphones in use more than tripled from 2010 to 2016.

Five states — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Arizona — accounted for 43 percent of all pedestrian traffic deaths. The states with the most pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people were Arizona,New Mexico, Delaware, Louisiana and Florida.

While the overall number of pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2017 was lower than in the
2016 period, it is projected that the rate for all of 2017 would be essentially unchanged from the year before.