A report released last month by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic jumped eleven percent last year, to nearly 6,000, the largest single-year increase in pedestrian fatalities ever, and the highest number in more than two decades.
And this wasn’t just because the number of traffic deaths went up due to increased driving. While overall traffic deaths increased six percent in 2016, reversing slightly a ten year decline, pedestrian deaths increased by nearly 12%. But it wasn’t just in those two years. Since 2006, pedestrian deaths have increased from 11% of all traffic fatalities in 2006 to over 15% in 2016, an increase of 25%. The increase in pedestrian deaths over the past decade occurred at time when total traffic deaths dropped by almost 17%. According to a number of sources, the greatest component of this increase is distracted walking.
Over the past year or so, I’ve occasionally commented on the increasing functional stupidity of students and others who blithely cross streets, their heads in their cell phones, not paying attention to traffic or much else. Well… now there’s some evidence that there is a cost to such stupidity, and that those who engage in it are candidates for the Darwin Awards, whose not-quite-tongue-in-cheek criterion for receiving the award states, “In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.”
Lack of intelligence around moving vehicles isn’t, unhappily, confined to homo sapiens, as a recent report in Royal Society Open Science confirms, by noting that the highest percentage of birds killed by moving vehicles were those with the smallest brains relative to their overall size.
In short, small brains makes it more likely that birds will die as road kill.
I have to wonder if we’d find the same thing if we looked at pedestrian traffic deaths.