WASHINGTON – Just as drinking and driving can be deadly, so can drinking and walking. Over 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 0.08 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 aged 25- to 34-years-old 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 also impaired. Only among pedestrians age 55 or older or younger than age 20 was the share of those killed a third or less.
By comparison, 13 percent of drivers involved in crashes in which pedestrians were killed were over the 0.08 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 0.08 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 is available. That was up 3 percent from the previous year.
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices, said anti-drunk 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, crossing is against the light, or “trying to beat a bus that’s coming,” he said.
“We’re starting to see this with bicycles as well in cities that have bike share programs,” he said. “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 around the country 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 0.08.”
Safety advocates have been warning for several years that they’re also seeing more cases of distracted walking. Several studies show that people who are talking on their cellphones while walking make more mistakes.
“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.