Much lip service is given to distracted drivers in South Florida - and for good reason. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports more than 49,000 crashes last year involved distracted drivers. Of those, nearly 3,600 resulted in an incapacitating injury and 235 resulted in death. Palm Beach County alone reported 2,525 distracted driving crashes in 2016.
However, one issue that is less discussed is the risk of pedestrian accidents caused (at least in part) by pedestrians who are distracted, mostly by their electronic devices.
A recent analysis of new data by the Governors Highway Safety Association underscores this important issue.
Although study authors didn't specifically note exactly how many pedestrians were injured or killed with electronic devices in hand, they were able to reach some conclusions about distraction among pedestrians via process of elimination. For example, we know that vehicle technology has resulted in increasingly safer vehicles. Drivers have cameras to spot people walking directly behind them and in their blind spots. Audible sensors alert when a crash is imminent. Automatic braking can even help stop the vehicle before a crash occurs.
Plus, roads are generally safer. Communities have become increasingly aware of the ways in which traffic engineering plays a role in the potential for a crash, and many cities and counties have sought to integrate more "Complete Streets" models to improve safety of all road users - not just those in cars.
Of course, speed continues to be a problem, and so does alcohol. But at a time when we really should be seeing a reduction in pedestrian accidents, we've seen a notable rise.
Traffic deaths in general are up, exceeding 40,000 last year. However, pedestrian deaths have risen at a faster clip. Auto accident fatalities nationally rose 6 percent to 40,200. Meanwhile, pedestrian accident deaths have risen by 11 percent, up to 6,000 last year. That's one of the largest annual increases, and it's also the first time in two decades that figure has risen above the 6,000 mark.
Four states - Florida, California, Texas and New York - accounted for more than 40 percent of all pedestrian accident deaths. Furthermore, while pedestrians comprised 11 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2006 and 2007, they accounted for 15 percent of those who lost their lives in traffic crashes in 2014 and 2015, according to the GHSA.
While the number of deaths suffered by pedestrians has varied over the last decade, it's generally been within a pretty narrow range - from 4,795 in 20016 up to 5,476 in 2015. The fact that it suddenly overshot 6,000 in a single year has drawn alarm from traffic safety advocates.
That's why researchers have zeroed in on pedestrian distraction. It's the one thing that has adversely changed very rapidly.
It should be noted that in Florida, even if an individual is partially at-fault for his or her own injuries, it will not prohibit that person from seeking damages. That's because Florida's comparative fault law, F.S. 768.81, states that while a person's overall damages may be reduced by the percentage of his or her own fault in causing the accident/ injury, they will not be stripped of the opportunity to seek recompense from other at-fault parties. This is true even if the plaintiff was mostly at-fault.
So for example, if a pedestrian is deemed 60 percent at-fault for her own injuries, she can still collect the remaining 40 percent in damages from other at-fault parties.