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Report Identifies Fatality Risk for People Walking Under the Influence

One exploratory solution is improving street lighting in areas frequented by pedestrians with high blood alcohol concentration (Solution 5, Example 1)


In recent years, there has been a decrease in crashes resulting in fatalities of drivers who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit of .08 g/dL. However, the number of pedestrians killed with a BAC above the legal limit has increased.

In June 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report about fatal pedestrian crashes, examining DWI/DUI history of fatally injured pedestrians who were tested for BAC. The study pulled reports from fatal pedestrian crashes in Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, due to their robust crash reporting system.

The study compared driving records to see if pedestrians killed who had their BAC tested had more alcohol-related driving offenses than pedestrians killed who were at low BAC or alcohol-free.

The findings showed that fatally injured pedestrians with a BAC above the legal limit were twice as likely to have prior alcohol offenses on their driving record (42.8%) compared to the group with a BAC lower than .08 (19%).  This suggested that people with prior alcohol-related driving offenses such as a DUI may be at a greater risk of being killed as a pedestrian with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.

A team of experts brainstormed exploratory solutions involving behavior changes which could potentially reduce, control or prevent individuals from walking and driving with blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. Below is a list of examples of over fifty experimental countermeasures which were sorted into themes addressing social, health, parole, environmental, education and enforcement issues.

Solution 1: Prevent or Limit/Control Walking (or Driving)

Example 1: Relocation to Safer Place Law – This law would allow police officers to move intoxicated pedestrians from dangerous traffic places to locations where they would be safer.

Example 2: “Walking Lifeguard”- An officer who views an “at-risk” pedestrian calls for a trained “walking lifeguard” who intercepts the pedestrian and walks with them. The lifeguard can make a brief intervention on alcohol and call a ride service if the pedestrian is too impaired to walk even with a companion.

Example 3: “Designated Walker”- A designated person in a social environment who limits his/her alcohol intake and sees to the welfare of the walkers either by walking with them or securing safe transportation for them. This is similar to the walking lifeguard but is self-initiated by the walkers just as a designated driver program is operated by the drinkers who might drive. Students in the United States and walkers in some European countries are already using designated walkers as part of their social groups.

Solution 2: Intervention by Medical/Social Personnel

Example 1: Addressing the Root Cause of Alcohol Misuse and Abuse – The criminal justice system is conditioned to address problems that are brought to its doorstep. This strategy would address the problems plaguing the DWI arrestee (who may also be a pedestrian with a high BAC) way before the day the person is arrested. It would necessarily have to be a cross-specialty, multidisciplinary intervention.

Solution 3: Intervention by Law Enforcement

Example 1: Transit Skills for Newly Suspended Drivers Guide – A guide explaining how to use transit and a number or web site for suspended drivers to use to seek advice on using transit to meet their needs. The guide would be given at the time of license suspension to help them and increase ridership.

Solution 4: Increase Awareness

Example: Public Awareness Campaign on Impaired Pedestrians – pamphlets, social media and information distributed to courts, medical professionals, counselors and businesses about the harm of excessive alcohol consumption.

Solution 5: Pedestrian and Traffic Safety

Example 1: Improved Street Lighting in Areas Frequented by High BAC pedestrians – Provide improved illumination using LED lamps of areas where high-BAC pedestrians are active, with the lighting set to illuminate the pedestrians, increasing their chances of being seen.

Example 2: Targeted Crosswalk Enforcement in Alcohol Service Areas – Use targeted crosswalk enforcement (decoy pedestrians) to enforce crosswalk laws at the time high-BAC pedestrians may be crossing. This should reduce crosswalk crashes in general and also benefit the high-BAC pedestrian who is in or near a crosswalk.

Example 3: Traffic Speed Reduction Through Lower Speed Limits and Enforcement – Speed reduction should both limit crashes and reduce fatal outcomes when crashes do occur.

Example 4: Improve Pedestrian Safety Through Changes in the Environment- Making the environment safer for walking, even at an elevated BAC, should reduce the studied crashes.

Analyzing national research can help to promote safety, education and policy change to make Central Florida a safer place for pedestrians.

For more information about the solutions or to read the full report: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/14287-dwi_pedestrian_060619_v1a-tag.pdf

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