Drivers who are increasingly distracted are one of the main catalysts for the uptick in motor vehicle accidents and related deaths in recent years. However, another phenomenon is believed to be driving an uptick in pedestrian accident deaths: Distracted walking.

Data collected in the first half of last year by the Governors Highway Safety Association analyzes preliminary report estimates indicating pedestrian accident fatalities are projected to surpass 6,000 – the first time they’ve done so in 20 years. This is at a time when vehicles have gotten smarter, traffic engineering is increasingly accounting for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users and there is a growing awareness about numerous behind-the-wheel hazards. Being a pedestrian should be safer than ever.

And yet, officials report an 11 percent uptick in the number of deaths as compared to 2015. Compare this to a 6 percent projected rise in overall traffic deaths. Study authors attribute this increase the parallel rise in cell smartphone use from both motorists and pedestrians.

A total of 34 states saw increases in pedestrian deaths, according to the GHSA, but Arizona was No. 3 when it came to the fatality rate factoring in population – 1.4 deaths for every 100,000 people. Last year, the Arizona director of highway safety reported approximately 200 people died statewide in pedestrian accidents.

Another report from the Pew Research Center earlier this year highlighted just how pervasive smartphone usage has gotten. Almost three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone – which is nearly double the 35 percent who owned one in 2011, when the Center first started asking the question. Just in the last year, there has been a notable increase in the number of people over 50 and lower-income Americans who now own a smartphone. Among younger adults, between the ages of 18 and 29, smartphone ownership is at 92 percent.

We live in a world where we are ever-connected, and people can’t seem to put down their phones, especially when they are in transit.

The good news for pedestrians in Arizona is that even if their own negligence plays a role in the crash, they will still be able to collect damages from any other responsible parties. This is true even if the pedestrian was mostly at-fault for the accident. That’s because per A.R.S. 12-2505, Arizona follows a pure comparative fault model wherein plaintiff’s awarded damages will be reduced by his or her share of fault.

So for example, if a distracted pedestrian is struck by a speeding car, jurors may decide pedestrian is 55 percent at-fault for the resulting injuries. Still, plaintiff would be able to recover damages for the remaining 45 percent fault that rested with the other party. The only exception under the law would be if a claimant intentionally, willfully or wantonly caused or contributed to his or her own injuries.

Study authors with GHSA say they are still examining their findings to determine if there are other ways they can work to make streets safer and prevent a continued rise of pedestrian accidents in Arizona and across the country. Some ideas that have been tossed around include:

  • Reducing speed limits (a pedestrian struck at 20 mph has much higher odds for survival than one struck at 40 mph);
  • Installing better lighting at crosswalks (most fatal pedestrian accidents happen at night);
  • Warning pedestrians of the dangers of walking or riding a bicycle drunk (one-third of pedestrians killed last year had a blood-alcohol concentration at or above the 0.08 threshold).

If you have been injured in a pedestrian accident, contact our experienced Phoenix injury lawyers to learn more about how we can help you recover damages.