Thanks to decades of anti-drunk driving campaigns, most people know better than to drink and drive. However, an April 2017 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute suggests that walking or cycling while under the influence of alcohol may be just as dangerous.
IIHS researchers used a federal database to examine fatal crash data for pedestrians, bicyclists, and passenger vehicle drivers age 16 and older from 1982 to 2014 for meaningful characteristics and trends. What they found in the study was disheartening. While the percentage of alcohol-impaired pedestrians and bicyclists killed in fatal crashes has fallen over time, the decline was nowhere near as dramatic as the decrease in the percentage of drunk drivers.
The IIHS report comes on the heels of a disturbing Spotlight on Highway Safety report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association in March 2017, which used preliminary data from the first half of 2016 to project an alarming 11 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities compared to the previous year.
The grim findings from these reports are particularly worrisome considering that health, environmental, and financial concerns are motivating more and more Americans to walk or ride their bicycles to get from place to place. Also, because walking or riding a bicycle is considered to be a safe transportation alternative for people who've been drinking, they may be entirely unaware there are similar dangers to these modes that compare to driving while under the influence.
Alcohol-Impaired Walking and Cycling Statistics
While walking or bicycling while drunk may seem relatively harmless compared to getting behind the wheel after having a few too many drinks, the following statistics show the insidious nature of the problem.
Consider these factors:
- A single alcoholic beverage can impair muscle coordination, vision, and judgment in pedestrians and bicyclists.
- After consuming just one drink, bicyclists are six times more likely to be injured in an accident.
- Having a blood alcohol concentration at or above the .08 legal limit increases a bicyclist's risk of injury by 2,000 percent, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.
- In 2011, traffic accidents resulted in an average of one pedestrian death every two hours, and alcohol impairment was a factor in nearly 50 percent of the crashes with pedestrian fatalities.
- In 2014, more than one-third of pedestrians and one-fifth of bicyclists killed in fatal accidents were legally drunk.
- Nearly 25 percent of fatal bicycling accidents involve an intoxicated bicyclist.
Trend Reversal Efforts
The silver lining in IIHS's report is that decades of public awareness campaigns decrying drinking and driving appear to have been effective in chipping away at the number of people who lose their lives to drunk driving. This gives researchers hope that similar campaigns could save the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists.
In addition to raising awareness of the dangers of drunken walking and bicycling, IIHS also recommends stricter enforcement of overserving bans that discourage restaurants and bars from serving already inebriated customers, as well as the promotion of safer transportation options, such as carpooling with a designated driver, calling a cab, or taking advantage of a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft.
Safety Tips for Pedestrians and Bicyclists
- Wear light-colored or reflective clothing to ensure you're visible to passing motorists.
- Always walk or ride facing oncoming traffic.
- Cross the street only at the crosswalk.
- Stay safe—call for a ride if you've been drinking.
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