Is Pot Legalization Causing Pedestrian Deaths?

The Governors Highway Safety Association released its annual "Spotlight on Highway Safety" report Wednesday, and it revealed some troubling trends in pedestrian safety.

There were an estimated 5,984 pedestrian deaths in America last year, according to the report. That’s the second year in a row that pedestrian deaths have hit almost 6,000 and represents a 27 percent increase between 2007 and 2016.

California ranked 15th in pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 nationwide. In fact, 43 percent of pedestrian fatalities during the first six months of 2017 occurred in just five states, which represent 30 percent of the population: California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Arizona.

A number of factors may be contributing to the rise in pedestrian deaths, but the Association singled out two in particular: growing smartphone use and legalization of marijuana.

"While the report does not find or imply a definitive link between these factors and pedestrian deaths, it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot," reads the Association’s press release.

Distracted pedestrians appear to be a growing problem, thanks growing use of handheld devices. As City News reported last week, one California city has gone so far as to ban texting while crossing the street.

Cannabis use is also associated with impaired cognition which could certainly contribute to increased pedestrian fatalities. But the link to marijuana policy is far from clear. Of the top 10 states for pedestrian fatalities per 100,000, only two -- Nevada (No. 6) and Alaska (N0. 9) -- have legalized marijuana. Recreational pot is still prohibited in all states within the top 5. 

A fully copy of the report is available here