An increasing trend of fatal pedestrian accidents has traffic safety advocates scrambling to identify possible causes to target to reverse the upward swing.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports pedestrian accidents have soared nationally in recent years, projecting more than 6,000 occurred last year. That's more than at any time in the last 20 years, and it's an 11 percent increase in just a single year. Compare that to a 6 percent increase in traffic crashes overall.
Officials say that while automobiles and roadways are being engineered to be safer, the one big growing difference is distraction. This is applicable to both drivers and pedestrians.
Federal regulators have paid a great deal of attention to driver distraction — which is important, as this factor is believed to play a role in more than half of all crashes. However, less awareness has been raised about pedestrian distraction.
You may have seen it in Albuquerque — those on foot or even bicycle buried in their smartphones, digging for a new song or uploading a photo to social media. There is nothing wrong with this except for the fact that it steals their attention from their surroundings, which puts them at risk of serious injury if they are crossing the street or walking near traffic.
The good news for victims of pedestrian accidents in New Mexico is that even if their own negligence played a role in their injury, they can still seek damages. That's because New Mexico follows a model of pure comparative fault, which means an injured plaintiff will not be prohibited from pursuing damages against other liable parties. However, the plaintiff's percentage of responsibility for the accident will reduce his or her damages by that amount.
For example, a person on foot struck by a vehicle found by a jury to be 70 percent liable for their pedestrian accident can still recover 30 percent of the damages. That precedent was set in the 1981 New Mexico Supreme Court case of Scott v. Rizzo.
As far as the pervasiveness of the problem, consider a recent Pew Research Center study that revealed 77 percent of Americans have smartphones. That's a drastic increase from the 35 percent who reported having smartphones in 2011.
Recently, local news outlet KOB4 reported on the most congested corridors and the most dangerous intersections, based on data compiled by the Mid-Region Council of Governments from 2009 and 2013. Paseo del Norte at Coors reported nearly 540 crashes in that time frame, and of those crashes, 149 resulted in an injury or fatality. Meanwhile, Osuna Road at Pan American East reported 54 crashes, and of those 20 resulted in serious injury or death.
The report doesn't break down what percentage of those were pedestrian accidents. However, we do know that nationally, the percentage of traffic accidents involving pedestrians rose from 11 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2015.
New Mexico ranked No. 4 nationally in terms of pedestrian fatality rate, which was 2.49 per 100,000 people in 2015. The national average was 1.75.
In comparing the first six months of last year to the same time frame in 2015, fatal pedestrian accidents in New Mexico rose 24 percent, with a total of 26 reported in the first half of last year.