A new report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association said pedestrian deaths rose last year to their highest level in 30 years, even as other traffic fatalities declined.

An estimated 6,590 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes last year.

The report concluded that a number of factors are at work, the primary being smartphone-related distractions by both drivers and pedestrians. Other factors include inadequate roadway lighting and crossing mechanisms, and alcohol or other drug impairment by both drivers and pedestrians.

The increase in pedestrian fatalities have been in contrast with the decrease in overall crash deaths. At least some of the decline has been due to crash-avoidance technologies such as emergency braking and sensors. In many cases, these technologies turn a fatal car-to-car accident into a non-fatal accident. But they apparently aren't helping in car-pedestrian accidents.

Most pedestrian fatalities involve nighttime accidents, and about about one-third involved a pedestrian with a blood alcohol level over the limit. About one in six fatalities involved a driver over the limit.

It seems crystal clear from the report that only a few factors are involved. To really make a difference, both drivers and pedestrians need to put down their smartphones, an easy suggestion but very hard to convince people to do so. And people should drink and drive less, and drink and walk less.

In Madison, we've taken some positive steps by requiring sidewalks to be constructed so that people don't need to walk in the street. That helps both in the winter, when streets are slippery, and in the summer, when more people are walking. In addition, the reconstruction of SD-34 has reduced some blind spots in which pedestrians couldn't be seen by drivers.

Reducing smartphone distractions is something we can all do starting today, and we should.

-- Jon M. Hunter