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Study: fatal car-bike and car-pedestrian accidents on the rise

As we’ve said before, according to 2005 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 64,000 pedestrians and 45,000 bicyclists were injured in car accidents in that year alone. Nearly 5,000 pedestrians and almost 1,000 bikers were killed that year.

A study just published in the journal Public Health Reports sheds new light on a prominent cause of many of those fatal pedestrian and bike accidents: distracted drivers. Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center combed through NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, examining police reports received between 2005 and 2010. They were looking at car accident reports investigators where had concluded were caused by distracted driving, and one surprising trend became clear.

While, overall, fatal motor vehicle accidents have been declining nationwide over the past few years, fatal pedestrian and bicycle accidents caused by distracted motorists rose substantially over that five-year period. In fact, distraction-related car-bicycle accidents rose by 30 percent, and those involving pedestrians jumped by almost 50 percent.

NHTSA’s FARS database only includes fatal accident reports. Considering the overall ratio of traffic accidents with injuries to those involving fatalities, it’s likely that thousands of bikers and pedestrians were injured by distracted motorists each year over the period studied.

In fact, the total number of fatal accidents caused by distraction is probably underestimated in FARS, the researchers said. Distracted driving is difficult to prove after an accident unless the driver admits the distraction or was observed by witnesses. The researchers had to rely on police investigators having reported distracted driving as the cause, and there are likely many more in the system were officers weren’t certain enough to record that conclusion.

“We’re constantly exposed to distracted drivers. I don’t think there’s a day that I don’t see someone driving and using their cell phone, a lot of times they’re texting,” commented one of the researchers. “It’s something that’s pervasive in society.” That pervasiveness makes driver distraction a major serious health threat.

Yet with all the public information campaigns and new laws prohibiting texting and cellphone use behind the wheel, drivers persist in engaging in these distracting activities. Unless that behavior is sharply curbed, more innocent people will continue to die in car accidents caused by a motorist’s momentary distraction.

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

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