WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as drinking and driving can be deadly, so can drinking and walking. More than a third of the pedestrians killed in 2011 had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit for driving, according to government data released Monday.
Thirty-five percent of those killed, or 1,547 pedestrians, had blood alcohol content levels of .08 or higher, the legal limit for driving, according to data reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by state highway departments.
Among the 625 pedestrians age 25 to 34 who were killed, half were alcohol impaired.
Just under half the pedestrians killed who were in their early 20s and their mid-30s to mid-50s were impaired. Only among those age 55 or older or younger than 20 was the share of those killed a third or less of the limit.
By comparison, 13 percent of drivers involved in crashes in which pedestrians were killed were over the .08 limit.
Overall, about a third of traffic fatalities in 2011 — 31 percent, or 9,878 deaths — were attributable to crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx released the data as he kicked off a new effort to reduce pedestrian deaths. There were 4,432 pedestrian fatalities in 2011, the latest year for which data are available. That was up 3 percent from 2010.
Iowa had 25 pedestrian fatalities in 2011. Nebraska had seven, according to the data.
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, said anti-drunken driving campaigns may be encouraging more people to walk home after a night of drinking.
“What it (the data) says to us is that nationally we've done a good job of educating people about the dangers of drunk driving, but we haven't done such a good job of reminding them that other drunk behavior, including walking, can be just as dangerous,” Adkins said.
Alcohol can impair pedestrians' judgment and lead them to make bad decisions, like crossing a road in the wrong place or crossing against the light, he said.
“We're starting to see this with bicycles as well in cities that have bike-share programs.
People wanting to do the right thing that had too much at happy hour and they jump on a bike.”
There is no data on an increase in alcohol-impaired bicycle fatalities, but there has been discussion at safety conferences about what appears to be the beginning of a trend, Adkins said.
“Bicyclists are a small number of fatalities anyway,” he said. “But it makes sense. For the same reason there are drunk pedestrians, you're going to see drunk bicyclists. You can be alcohol impaired with just a few drinks. It's not that you're sloppy drunk and falling over, it is just that you're above .08.”
Safety advocates have been warning for years that they're seeing more cases of distracted walking.
“We've done a good job alerting people to the dangers of being a distracted driver, but we haven't done a good job of alerting people to the dangers of being a distracted pedestrian,” Adkins said.
The highway safety group has launched a website with safety tips and resources.
This report includes material from Tribune Washington Bureau.
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