After more than a decade of trying to discourage distracted driving, safety experts are concerned about a similar phenomenon among pedestrians.
With iPods and smart phones occupying the ears and eyes of a growing number of those walking the streets, officials are worried that a four-year trend of declining pedestrian deaths may be nearing an end.
The Governors Highway Safety Association reported last week that pedestrian traffic fatalities rose slightly in the first half of 2010, compared with the same six months of 2009.
"While the increase is small -- 0.4 percent -- it is notable because overall traffic fatalities during this period were significantly down, and this comes on the heels of four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths," the association said.
The report also speculated that healthy lifestyles programs that encourage walking and a growing emphasis on walkable communities might have played a part.
"We've been focusing on the drivers, but perhaps we need to focus some attention on distracted walkers," said Jonathan Adkins, communications director for the association.
"Combine a walker/runner on an (iPod) with a driver on his cell phone and you have a recipe for disaster," Adkins said, adding that he had stopped listening to his iPod during his 20-minute walk to work. .Nationally, pedestrian traffic deaths fell from 4,892 in 2005 to 4,092 in 2009, an average decline of 200 per year.
In a statement released with the report, the association's chairman, Vernon F. Betkey Jr., said pedestrian deaths account for about 12 percent of all traffic fatalities, a "small but significant portion."
"Given that we have made so much progress in this area, GHSA is concerned to see this reversal," he said.
"Anyone who travels in a busy city has seen countless pedestrians engrossed in conversation or listening to music while crossing a busy street. Just as drivers need to focus on driving safely, pedestrians need to focus on walking safely -- without distractions."
The report said there was no "silver bullet" to reduce pedestrian deaths because they are caused by a variety of circumstances. It recommended that states make pedestrian safety a priority; analyze crash data to detect problem areas; and step up enforcement to ensure that drivers yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
(Contact Jon Schmitz at jschmitz(at)post-gazette.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)