STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's something to consider the next time you're crossing the street - more than 6,000 pedestrians died in traffic accidents last year across the United States. That's an increase - the highest number in 30 years. Many of the deaths came in big cities like Houston and Miami, but pedestrian deaths have also climbed in smaller cities. Sea Stachura reports from Macon, Ga.
SEA STACHURA, BYLINE: Macon is home to about a hundred thousand people, and it's all too easy to find someone whose friend or relative died while crossing one of its streets. Violet Poe's friend, Amos Harris, was one of them.
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VIOLET POE: Amos was a good person. He was really kind-hearted. You see this street, Hudson Street? It leads up to Walnut Street where his house is where he lived with his mother.
STACHURA: Poe and I are edging our way between the traffic cones and the curb of the street he died on. He had been out after dark searching for his nephew.
POE: He came down and crossed here and was hit.
STACHURA: Georgia is 1 of 5 states that make up nearly half of all the nation's pedestrian fatalities. The others are Texas, Arizona, Florida and California. Tom Ellington heads the Macon Pedestrian Safety Review Board. He says, while it's easy to point to jaywalking as the key source of the problem, that's misplaced blame.
TOM ELLINGTON: We've spent decades building a transportation system that's designed for cars and not for people. And we have an awful lot of people in this community who don't have their own vehicles, who are dependent either on transit or on their own foot power to get around.
STACHURA: Like many cities around the country, Macon's roads were designed to get vehicles from point A to point B fast. Often that means big roads with few stoplights.
ELLINGTON: I could point you to places that have had as much as a two-mile gap between crosswalks. And it's great advice to tell people to use a crosswalk, but that's not very useful if the crosswalk doesn't exist.
STACHURA: Richard Retting wrote the pedestrian fatality report for the Governors Highway Safety Association. He says you can't blame this spike in deaths only on the lack of sidewalks.
RICHARD RETTING: We're not seeing a reduction in sidewalks.
STACHURA: But there was a 30 percent jump in pedestrian deaths in just the last 10 years. So what's to blame?
RETTING: We tried to identify other metrics that were consistent with that steady increase. And the ones that we could find were distraction related to smartphone use and the market share increase for SUVs, both of which went up significantly over the same period of time.
STACHURA: Most of our new car shopping has been for SUVs, which are bigger, heavier and deadlier for pedestrians. And both walkers and drivers are increasingly distracted by their phones. One solution could be adding pedestrian sensors to cars. Transportation researcher Achilleas Kourtellis at the University of South Florida says that will eventually be very useful.
ACHILLEAS KOURTELLIS: Ninety-four percent of crashes are because of human error. So if somebody is not paying attention, they can end up in a crash. Whereas a computer that never sleeps, it's always there, sensors are picking up things.
STACHURA: Florida is considering legislation that would allow police to ticket drivers for any type of distracted driving, including petting your dog. Most New England states already have similar laws, and last year, those six states saw an average decrease of 36 percent in pedestrian deaths. For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura.
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