ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's the oldest form of transportation - walking - and new evidence shows it's getting more dangerous. A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows the number of pedestrians killed in traffic jumped 11 percent last year. That's nearly 6,000 people who died in collisions with vehicles, and it's the biggest single-year increase in the four decades these statistics have been tracked. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper has more.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I am standing at a pretty busy in downtown Chicago. And it's certainly not the most dangerous place in the city for pedestrians, but there are some factors here that could put those on foot at greater risk. First of all, it's early evening, so it's dark out. It's also raining lightly, and a lot of the people who are out and about are not looking where they're going. They're looking at their phones.
MELODY GERACI: We're crazy distracted. We're crazy distracted. After speeding and failure to yield, distractions are the number three cause, particularly with electronic devices.
SCHAPER: Melody Geraci is with the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago group advocating for better walking, cycling and public transportation options. She says it's not just those behind the wheel distracted by the devices, but a growing number of pedestrians, too, who can become oblivious to traffic around them. But she says the bigger problem remains the speed of car.
GERACI: Speed is a killer, for sure. If a pedestrian is struck at 20 miles an hour, they have a 10 percent chance of dying. If they are struck at 40 miles an hour, they have an 80 percent chance of dying.
SCHAPER: According to the report, about 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen at night. Seventy-two percent of those killed are not crossing at intersections or crosswalks. And then there's this.
JONATHAN ADKINS: Alcohol plays a big role.
SCHAPER: The Governor's Highway Safety Association's executive director, Jonathan Adkins, says 15 percent of pedestrians killed each year are hit by a drunk driver, and a third of pedestrians killed are legally drunk themselves. That's right - one-third.
ADKINS: It's not just about don't drive drunk. It's don't walk home at night when you're hammered.
SCHAPER: Adkins and other safety advocates say lower speed limits, better road designs and more sidewalks can help reduce the fatalities. So can new vehicle technologies that alert drivers to pedestrians, though many drivers are confused by the technology and disable it. But ultimately the findings point to personal responsibility, both of the driver and the speed they're going and the pedestrian and the condition they're in. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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