Distracted driving is claiming the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists at an increasing rate, according to a new study published online today in Public Health Reports.
The study examined data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System database from 2005 to 2010 on every crash on US public roads that resulted in at least one death. Pedestrian fatalities caused by distracted driving crashes have steadily increased between 2005 and 2010 – from 347 in 2005 to 500 in 2010. Bicyclist fatalities caused by distracted driving crashes increased from 56 in 2005 to 77 in 2008, decreasing to 73 fatalities in 2010, according to the study.
The study also finds that distracted drivers were 1.6 times more likely than non-distracted drivers to fatally hit pedestrians at marked cross-walks. Distracted drivers were nearly three times more likely to hit pedestrians on road shoulders.
Overall, fatality rates have decreased for individuals riding in cars involved in crashes. The study authors suggest that this may be partly due to improvements made to cars themselves. “The problem is that pedestrians and cyclists have little protection on the roadways,” said study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, associate professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Beyond encouraging drivers not to drive while distracted, the study authors suggest that improvements could be made to roadways to protect pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Evidence suggests that separating non-motorized travel from motorized travel, through bike lanes or other redevelopment efforts, could greatly reduce deaths,” Wilson explained.
The study also identifies patterns in the demographic characteristics of distracted driving crashes. Compared to non-distracted crashes, pedestrian victims of distracted driving are more likely to be female, older than 65 or have physical impairment; they are also more likely to be struck while in a road shoulder, and more likely to die during the day. Bicyclist victims of distracted driving are more likely female and white compared to other bicyclist victims; they are also more often struck in the morning, on a road shoulder, and in a rural area, according to the study.
The study was conducted by Wilson and his colleagues Jim Stimpson, PhD, associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Robert L. Muelleman, MD, professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The study was funded by a grant from the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.