Pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents have reached levels not seen in years, and a safety group has sought to explain why. It has identified several possible causes, like digital distractions and an increase in driving. Now it has added another: marijuana.
Over the first six months of 2017, pedestrian fatalities rose sharply from a year earlier in states that had legalized recreational marijuana, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In the rest of the country, such deaths declined.
“We are not making a definitive, cause-and-effect link to marijuana,” said Richard Retting, a traffic safety engineer at Sam Schwartz Consulting who was the author of the study. The data “is a marker for concern,” he added. “It may be a canary in a coal mine, an early indicator to address.”
Pedestrian deaths are far higher than a decade ago, both in sheer numbers and as a share of traffic fatalities. In 2016, the last full year for which the safety association has data, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed, 16 percent of the overall traffic toll.
Many factors can cause traffic deaths to rise, and safety experts say the increases in recent years are partly a byproduct of recovery from the recession. “People are driving more when the economy is growing,” Mr. Retting said. Populations are rising in urban areas where most pedestrian fatalities occur, and cities are more congested.
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