Exercise, iPods could be causing pedestrian deaths

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Scott McCabe

First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor in an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths during the first half of last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said her organization doesn’t know why there were more deaths in the first six months of 2010 than in 2009, but the increase is notable because overall traffic fatalities went down 8 percent during this period, and the increase ends four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths.

But the “get moving” movement, led by Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner.

“There’s an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle],” said Harsha, who conceded to having no scientific evidence that the Let’s Move campaign has led to an increase in walkers and runners, or deaths.

"This is all speculative," Harsha said. "Obviously, further study is needed."

The first lady's office did not respond immediately Wednesday to a request for comment.

Another culprit for the uptick in pedestrian deaths? The increasing use of technological devices, Harsha said.

"People are using more and more electronic devices -- iPods and cell phones," Harsha said. "They're distracted and not paying attention to traffic and traffic signals, they're stepping out in the street and getting hit."

According to a report released by Harsha’s agency, pedestrian deaths in the District and Virginia increased in the first half last year, while Maryland death’s decreased. In the first half of 2009, there were five pedestrians killed in D.C. and 31 in Virginia. During that same period last year, there were eight pedestrians killed in D.C. and 41 in Virginia. In Maryland, pedestrian deaths dropped from 54 to 50. After four straight years of steady declines, pedestrian deaths went up for the first six months of 2010. The increase is only 7 more deaths, or a less than 0.4 percent increase.

Significant increases occurred in states such as Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and North Carolina. Oregon notes that more than half of its pedestrians killed were under the influence of intoxicants. That state has also experienced a rise in “aggressive pedestrians” — people not using crosswalks and even some walking in the travel lane of interstates.

smccabe@washingtonexaminer.com

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