EDITORIAL: Pedestrians dying at an increased rate in Clark County and nationally

Last year was the deadliest on record in terms of Clark County pedestrian deaths. The number of people who were hit and killed by vehicles on local roads in 2017 soared to 78, a 34 percent jump from 2016.

Southern Nevada is no outlier. The national trend has also been disturbing.

On Wednesday, a group representing state transportation officials announced that nearly 6,000 U.S. pedestrians died last year after being struck by vehicles on America’s roads. The number is essentially flat when compared to 2016, but it represents a 9 percent increase over 2015 and is 9.5 percent higher than 2014.

“People outside cars are dying at levels we haven’t seen in 25 years,” Richard Retting, a consultant who prepared the report for the Governors Highway Safety Association, told USA Today.

Interestingly, the report cited legalized marijuana as a potential factor in the rising pedestrian death rate. “In the seven states that legalized the drug for recreational purposes, as well as the District of Columbia,” USA Today reported, “pedestrian deaths spiked 16.4 percent in the first half of 2017, according to the GHSA study.”

Nevada is among those states, of course. And pedestrian deaths have risen sharply in Clark County since the implementation of legalized pot. While the report produced no definitive, or even casual, cause-and-effect relationship between the two, it’s certainly an issue that merits further examination — although a Metro official told the Review-Journal in January that the department didn’t investigate any instances of a pot-impaired driver being involved in a local pedestrian death in 2017.

Of greater significance is, once again, the proliferation of electronic devices. Just as cellphones and other digital distractions have likely contributed to the recent increase in national traffic fatalities, so too have they almost certainly led to more pedestrian deaths.

While drivers are no doubt culpable in many pedestrian accidents, it is hardly uncommon in this day and age to see an oblivious walker — earbuds obstructing the auditory senses, eyes transfixed on a smartphone — step off the curb and into oncoming traffic.

“We’ve got distracted drivers, and we’ve got distracted pedestrians,” one auto analyst told USA Today. “At some point in time, people both behind the wheel and walking in the street have to take responsibility for their behavior and put down the phone.”

It’s impossible to legislate common sense. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that a proliferation of drivers who refuse to ditch their electronic devices while they operate their motor vehicles, along with tuned-out pedestrians unmindful of their surroundings, represents a dangerous and deadly combination.

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