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Study: huge rise in cyclists killed in distracted driving wrecks

An analysis of U.S. traffic fatalities reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that was just published by researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center revealed an alarming trend. While traffic fatalities overall have generally declined, fatal accidents involving both bicyclists and pedestrians are actually on the increase.

The report, which is published in the most recent issue of the journal Public Health Reports, covered all victims of distracted driving accidents reported between 2005 and 2010, based on police reports in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The researchers only included reports where investigators indicated the responsible driver had been using a cellphone or other electronic device, or had been engaging in other distracting or inattentive activities before the crash. The analysis also included statistics on the circumstances of the accidents.

The results clearly indicated that distracted driving is a major cause of traffic fatalities overall, but especially for vulnerable bikers and pedestrians. Over the five years studied, the number of cyclists killed each year by distracted drivers rose from 56 to 73 -- 30 percent. The number of distracted-driver pedestrian fatalities grew from 355 to 500 -- nearly 50 percent. Perhaps even more disturbing, around half of all pedestrian and cyclist fatalities occur during daytime.

The number distraction-related fatalities, researchers believe, is under-reported because driver distraction can be hard for law enforcement to prove. And, since NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System only covers deaths, the number of people injured by distracted drivers isn’t included. Unfortunately, that number is almost certain to be exponentially higher.

Over the past decade or so, distracted driving has been a major focus of law enforcement and traffic safety exponents, so why is the number of distraction-related pedestrian and cyclist fatalities growing?

“The evidence on policies curbing distracted driving is very mixed and some research suggests policies are just not working,” said one researcher. “If that’s the case, we need to think about marked crosswalks, bike paths -- the environment that tries to create a separation between pedestrians and bicyclists with traffic.”

One thing is clear: distracted driving is a threat, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Everyone on the road needs to remember that, every day, or more people will die.

Source: Claims Journal, “Distracted Driving Killing More Pedestrians, Bicyclists,” Nov. 25, 2013

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