Pedestrian deaths spike in 2016, smartphones partly to blame

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If you’re driving while reading this, put down the iPhone.

No really.

Almost 6,000 pedestrians died in traffic accidents nationwide last year — a 20-year high — and researchers say it may be because so many people are looking at their smartphones.

“A more recent factor contributing to the increase in pedestrian fatalities may be the growing use of smart phones by all road users, which can be a significant source of distraction for both drivers and pedestrians,” wrote researchers with the Governors Highway Safety Association in a recent report.

They cite other possible factors as well, including economic conditions, fuel prices and an increase in motor vehicle travel. But data from the Wireless Association suggests smartphones are a major culprit. People sent 45 percent more multimedia messages in 2015 than the year before, according to the report, and used more than twice as much wireless data.

The BBC reported on the findings Friday.

Noting an alarming trend, the researchers found 11 percent more pedestrians were killed in 2016 than the year before, and 22 percent more than in 2014. They estimated the number of 2016 deaths using data from the first half of the year.

California had the most pedestrian deaths in the country during the first half of the year — 359 people died between January and June 2016.

Another tidbit from the report: 82 percent of pedestrian deaths happen outside of intersections. So stay in the crosswalk.

Photo: People walk through a Manhattan intersection on March 30, 2017 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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