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EDITORIAL: Highway carnage

It was a mantra for vigilant parents everywhere back when children still wandered their neighborhoods and nearby evirons unattended, a warning seared into the consciousness of many youngsters: Look both ways before you cross the street.

It remains sage advice today, for kids and adults.

Traffic fatalities have soared in the past two years after decades of steady decline in many states. The National Safety Council reports the number of people killed on the nation’s roadways has jumped 18 percent since 2014 — more than 19,000 Americans died in automobile crashes during the first half of 2016.

The increase coincides with the proliferation of our ubiquitous electronics devices. These days, the driver in front of you weaving in and out his lane is probably more likely to be engrossed in his smartphone than intoxicated.

The carnage has also taken pedestrians. The safety council reports that more than 5,300 U.S. pedestrians were killed in 2015, up almost 31 percent from 2009. Through the first few months of last year, such deaths in Nevada were up 46 percent over 2015.

The final numbers aren’t yet in for 2016, but the trend wasn’t positive overall, The Associated Press reported this week. Texas saw a 15 percent increase in pedestrian deaths over the past year, while California experienced a 42 percent rise between 2009 and 2015, although the number of people killed in 2016 declined slightly.

“We know that drivers are increasingly more distracted,” Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, told the wire service, “especially by mobile technology, plus there is more speeding. And we know that pedestrians are increasingly also distracted by mobile technology, plus more jaywalking and nighttime walking.”

While the “Zero Fatalities” campaign — adopted by Nevada and other states with the goal of eliminating all pedestrian and traffic deaths within 30 years — certainly means well, it is simply unattainable barring laws that mandate self-driving vehicles and prohibit people from getting behind the wheel. A better approach might be public safety campaigns that emphasize — over and over, like mom bellowing to “look both ways before you cross the street” — the dangers inherent in these electronic distractions.

The foolhardy souls who refuse to give up texting when they turn on the ignition, or insist on sauntering down the sidewalk oblivious to their surroundings, put themselves and others in grave danger. The increasing number of men, woman and children dying on our roadways make that disturbingly clear.

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