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Growing recognition that drunk pedestrians are at high risk

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The trend is alarming. While other types of traffic fatalities have been declining, pedestrian deaths grew by 27 percent between 2007 and 2016.

Of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes since 2016, a third were over the legal driving limit for alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). How many? Nearly 2,000 people in that year alone.

That data doesn't even consider all the injuries experienced by pedestrians who have been drinking.

Yet with all the injuries and deaths, there are few public safety interventions geared specifically toward pedestrians who drink -- many of whom may be trying to avoid driving drunk.

"We've done a good job of educating people about drunk driving and the dangers," says the head of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). "But we haven't reminded people that if you're too hammered to get behind the wheel, you may be too hammered to walk home in the dark."

Alcohol intoxication impairs your judgment and increases your reaction time. Just as it does for drivers, it can lead to risky behavior and poor decision-making by pedestrians. They may cross against the light or in the middle of the block without even considering whether they are visible to motorists.

Most fatal pedestrian accidents occur at night in urban or suburban areas. The typical victims are males between 21 and 59 -- and they're not crossing at intersections. Far too often, drivers fail to notice pedestrians under these conditions until it's too late.

The accidents often follow patterns that are familiar to local police. In Austin, Texas, for example, police often encounter pedestrians trying to cross an eight-lane section of I-35 despite the high speeds and concrete barriers -- and despite the fact that there's a pedestrian bridge about a quarter of a mile down the road. Why? There are motels on one side of the freeway and fast-food restaurants on the other, and people often choose to run across rather than detour to the pedestrian bridge.

How could society reduce the danger to inebriated pedestrians? Here are some recommendations from safety advocates:

  • Perform more research into preventing pedestrian accidents
  • Educational campaigns about the dangers of drunk walking
  • Lowering speed limits in pedestrian areas
  • Improving roadway lighting
  • Designing roadways to naturally curb speeds where people are walking
  • Adding pedestrian medians, barriers and bridges to promote safe street crossing
  • Marketing ride-sharing services directly to pedestrians

Until our roadways are safer for pedestrians, we all need to be more vigilant of our safety and that of others. People who have been injured in pedestrian accidents can also hold negligent drivers responsible through personal injury lawsuits.

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