Exploring Human Potential

The Dangers Of Drunk Walking

With New Year’s celebration upon us, everyone is focused on preventing drunk driving. But few consider another dangerous pursuit – drunk walking. In the seventeen years between 1986 and 2002, the single deadliest day for pedestrians was January 1st. 410 pedestrians died and nearly 60% had elevated blood alcohol levels.(1)

Here are some key questions and answers about pedestrian safety compliments of the Insurance Institute (2):

Where are pedestrian crashes most likely to occur?

“Most pedestrian crashes occur in urban areas where pedestrian activity is concentrated. In 2007, 72 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban settings, although there is a higher ratio of deaths to injuries in rural areas because of higher impact speeds on rural roads.

Seventy-one percent of all pedestrian deaths in 2007 occurred on major roads, including interstates and freeways. A substantial proportion of pedestrian deaths occur at intersections — 24 percent in 2007, and a greater percentage of older pedestrian deaths occurred at intersections when compared to deaths of pedestrians under age 70 (40 percent compared to 21 percent). This is partly because older pedestrians generally cross intersections more slowly. Diminished vision, hearing, and reaction time also contribute.

The majority of pedestrian crashes occur at locations other than intersections, where vehicle speeds may be higher and where drivers do not expect to have to stop. One common type of collision can be characterized as a dart out, when a pedestrian appears suddenly from the roadside, allowing the driver little time to react.”

When are pedestrians most likely to be struck?

“Fatal pedestrian/motor vehicle collisions occur most often between 6 p.m. and midnight. Pedestrian deaths are most likely to occur on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.”

Who is at fault in most pedestrian crashes?

“A 2002 Institute study of pedestrian deaths in Baltimore and Washington, DC, revealed that pedestrians were more likely than drivers to be judged at fault in these collisions (50 percent versus 39 percent with the remainder being either shared or unknown fault). Pedestrians were almost always judged culpable in midblock and intersection dash crashes, the kind involving a pedestrian who appears suddenly in the path of a vehicle. Drivers were usually at fault in other crash types such as when a vehicle is turning or backing up, or when a vehicle leaves the road and strikes a pedestrian.”

How do most pedestrian injuries occur?

“Most pedestrians are struck by the front of a passenger vehicle. What happens next depends on a number of factors including the speed of the vehicle and the relative heights of the pedestrian, the front end of the vehicle, and the bumper. For a pedestrian struck by a passenger car, the initial contacts are with the vehicle bumper and/or the front edge of the hood, depending on the shape of the vehicle front structure. When pedestrians are struck by taller vehicles such as SUVs or pickup trucks, the impact is higher on the body. Typically, larger vehicles mean worse injuries and higher risk of death.”

Clearly drunk driving is more hazardous than drunk walking.(3,4) But sending an inebriated friend or family on his way, even without car keys, is not without risk. Better to walk along or call a taxi to make this a Happy – and safe – New Year.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee


1.C M Farmer, A F Williams . Temporal factors in motor vehicle crash deaths.

2. ANAHAD O’CONNOR. Claim: New Year’s Is the Most Dangerous Time of the Year to Be on the Road. NYT. December 29, 2008.

3. Parker-Pope, T. Walking While Intoxicated. NYT. December 31, 2008.

4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Q&A: Pedestrians.

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