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Editorial: Deadly distractions; watch out for pedestrians

Within a matter of days, two people were struck and killed last week while walking along Rowan County roads. Their deaths fit a trend noted recently by the Governors Highway Safety Association — the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents is rising.

From 2015 to 2016, pedestrian deaths jumped 11 percent to nearly 6,000 nationwide — the biggest one-year increase ever, according to the association. That’s also the highest number in more than two decades.

The report cites several factors — economic conditions, demographics, weather, fuel prices and the increased number of drivers and walkers on the road. Alcohol also is often at play; 15 percent of pedestrians killed are hit by a drunk driver, while 34 percent of the killed walkers are themselves drunk.

More and more often, distractions are a deadly factor, too — particularly smartphones, with drivers and walkers reading or texting instead of paying attention to their surroundings. In addition, walkers often listen to music on earphones, blocking the sound of oncoming traffic.

Rowan County is largely rural, with miles and miles of secondary roads that are unlit at night. Drivers don’t expect to come upon walkers on those roads and often literally cannot see them until it is too late. One of last week’s victims was walking along Rowan Mill Road around 10:30 at night; the other was walking along Airport Road around 10 p.m. A deputy’s patrol car hit the first man. The second incident was a hit-and-run. Authorities are looking for a man and woman in their 30s, driving a silver Buick, who were seen looking at the body.

Pedestrians are supposed to walk on the left side of the road facing traffic, so they can see what’s coming. If walking at night, they should wear light clothing and reflectors — and pay attention.

Drivers need to be on high alert for walkers at all hours, especially along our country roads. Cars and trucks obviously have the advantage, but no driver wants to be responsible for injuring or killing someone. If the worst does happen, stop and call 911.

Meanwhile, transportation planners must take note. Wherever possible, paved roads need shoulders where people can walk safely. The days of assuming everyone has a car are in the rearview mirror.

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