Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Drinking – by pedestrians or drivers – makes for dangerous situations. And in New Mexico, it leads to deadly consequences more often than in any other state.
New Mexico had the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the United States in 2014, according to a new federal report.
New Mexico racked up 74 pedestrian fatalities in 2014, or a rate of 3.55 per 100,000 residents, according to a report issued in May by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was more than twice the U.S. rate of 1.53 per 100,000.
Alcohol was a factor in more than half the fatal pedestrian crashes in New Mexico. Nationally, it was a factor in a little over a third.
State data shows 57 percent of New Mexico pedestrians killed – 42 of 74 – died in alcohol-related crashes in which either the driver or the pedestrian was intoxicated.
“Pedestrian impairment” is the key factor in fatal pedestrian crashes in Albuquerque, said Tanner Tixier, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department. “The majority of our pedestrian fatalities are a result of intoxicated pedestrians walking outside of safety areas, and not the result of drivers being at fault,” he said.
The federal report found that 35 percent of pedestrians killed in the United States in 2014 had a blood-alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent, the presumed legal limit for intoxication. The rate was especially high for pedestrians ages 35 to 44, of whom 49 percent were legally drunk at the time they were killed.
Jaywalking also was a big factor.
Only 21 percent of pedestrians, or about one in five, were killed at intersections in 2014, it said. Most were killed crossing streets away from intersections, and a small number were killed on medians, sidewalks and roadsides.
Many of Albuquerque’s homeless population “are perpetually intoxicated and aren’t looking out for cars in the middle of the night,” Tixier said. Too often, pedestrians meet their end crossing streets outside of crosswalks in dimly lit areas, he said.
The state’s tally of pedestrian deaths declined to 48 in 2015, the New Mexico Department of Transportation said.
“Ensuring that our pedestrians are safe is a priority for our department,” DOT spokesman Matt Kennicott said in a written statement. “In 2015, we saw a reduction in pedestrian fatalities, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
DOT incorporates safety features into its roadway designs, including sidewalks, lighting and pedestrian refuge islands, the statement said. The agency also sponsors an advertising and media campaign to encourage pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists to stay vigilant on the road.
Pedestrian fatalities are predominantly an urban tragedy.
More than three-quarters of pedestrian fatalities – 78 percent – occurred in urban areas, and 72 percent occurred in darkness, the federal report found.
New Mexico data for 2013 shows that just two counties – Bernalillo and McKinley – accounted for 59 percent of all New Mexico pedestrian fatalities that year, according to data collected by the University of New Mexico under contract with the DOT.
Of all traffic deaths in Bernalillo County that year, 40 percent were pedestrians. Statewide, pedestrians comprised 17 percent of all traffic deaths in 2013.
Bernalillo County also has more than its share of drunken pedestrians, an earlier study found.
Of the 38 Bernalillo County pedestrians killed from 2008 to 2011, half were intoxicated, according to a 2014 study by the Mid-Region Council of Governments.