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Posts Tagged ‘GHSA’

A NY Times editorial jumps on the distracted-pedestrian bandwagon. It argues in favor of laws recently passed in Honolulu and Montclair outlawing the use of mobile devices by pedestrians at intersections.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that distracted walking is a problem. Enforcing such a law would do nothing for pedestrian safety. Rather, it would be a pretext for police harassment of pedestrians.

The Times argues such laws are needed to enforce a “social contract” that everyone is responsible for their safety and regard for others. But there is no such social contract. Distracted pedestrian laws only apply to….pedestrians. Drivers are still free to use their mobile devices as they blast through intersections. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, even incorporate giant touchscreens in the dashboard.

The hysteria over distracted walking originates with the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which speaks for state highway departments. State highway engineers have spent decades building a very dangerous transportation system. But rather than acknowledge professional blunders, the GHSA blames the victim. Pedestrians, you see, are getting killed because they are drunk and using cell phones.  For 2018, the GHSA annual report adds a new bogeyman — marijuana legalization:

Analyzing data for the first half of 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association found a notable increase in pedestrian deaths in states that had legalized marijuana. Elsewhere, the death toll declined. It is too early for firm conclusions, but you can’t rule out that judgments are flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned.

There were seven states that had legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016 (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington). While those states did see large increases last year in pedestrian fatalities, other factors (increasing VMT in particular) appears to be the culprit, not legalization. Except for Nevada, the legalization states still have lower overall pedestrian fatality rates compared to the national average. And interestingly, there is considerable debate within the medical community on what impact (if any) cannabis has on driver impairment.

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Blame Michelle Obama

While overall traffic fatalities fell last year by a “record” amount, pedestrian fatalities have shown little improvement. And what is the explanation for this? According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Assoc., it is all Michelle Obama’s fault:

First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor in an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths during the first half of last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said her organization doesn’t know why there were more deaths in the first six months of 2010 than in 2009, but the increase is notable because overall traffic fatalities went down 8 percent during this period, and the increase ends four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths. But the “get moving” movement, led by Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner.

The GHSA report is depressing reading. We all know why streets have become more dangerous for pedestrians, but the engineering profession refuses to own up to its responsibility. Instead, the GHSA report professes ignorance as to the causes, and the organization’s spokeswoman blames the First Lady instead.

This recalls Upton Sinclair’s famous principle: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As long as the traffic engineering profession gets paid to build bigger and faster highways, the non-motorized users will suffer the consequences.

Pedestrian Fatalities 1999-2009

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