Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed on US roads last year, an 11% increase from 2015, according to projections released this week by the Governors Highway Safety Association (pdf). It was the highest rate of increase in at least four decades, as far back as the data go. Pedestrian deaths accounted for 15% of the total traffic fatalities in the US, the largest portion in 25 years, said the report, based on preliminary 2016 data from 50 states and Washington, DC.
US roadways are becoming more dangerous in general even as automakers have added safety features such as backup cameras to give drivers better views. Yet in 2015, the number of traffic fatalities rose 7.2%, the most in 50 years.
What’s causing the spike isn’t totally clear. Researchers have pointed to a more than two-year slump in fuel prices that’s made it cheaper to drive, increasing the number of cars on the road. But distracted drivers and pedestrians ever-tethered to their cell phones and other devices may also be playing a part.
In-car connectivity is becoming the norm. Some car companies even offer data plans so drivers don’t have to part with their precious devices and apps on the road, but signs are emerging that technology is advancing moving more quickly than safety measures.
Hands-free technology can be distracting and even navigation apps meant to help travelers can divert attention from what’s in front of them. Smartphone use can have fatal consequences for those on foot, who need to keep an eye out for themselves as well as drivers whose attention may be compromised.
But regardless of whether you consider it a tool or a vice, pedestrians who travel at slower speeds than the 3,000-pound hunks of steel with whom they share the road—and don’t generally walk around with anti-crash sensors—need to be extra careful. US cities may want to look to the Dutch, who have put traffic lights on the ground in one town, so phone zombies might see them.
Or you could just put the phone away for a few minutes.