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As cycling to work is on the rise, so are hit-and-run deaths

Cyclist and pedestrian deaths are up in the US, and experts are blaming distractions. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Hit-and-run fatalities have reached a record high, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. While traffic deaths are up across the board, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in collisions is raising alarms — they account for 70 percent of hit-and-run deaths.

Jake Nelson, AAA's director of traffic safety advocacy and research said that, "On the one hand, these statistics are a bit deflating. On the other hand, we can hope they serve as a wake-up call."

Last year, pedestrian deaths reached their highest level in two decades, surpassing those of drivers. While a push for citizens to walk or bike to work is partially blamed for the statistics, experts say that distraction from smartphones are likely the greater culprit for both drivers and pedestrians.

Richard Freeman, whose friend was killed last week as she crossed an intersection in Chicago, said, "I am completely disappointed that we are seeing more hit and runs now than ever. You would think that...with two generations of us growing up in a 'Don't drink and drive' and 'Don't use cellphones while driving' kind of world, that we would be seeing accidents going down."

AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher says that drivers are less likely to flee after a collision with another vehicle results in a death, because "a vehicle is less likely to be drivable after a crash severe enough to kill a vehicle occupant."

Distracted driving and drunk driving are both problems that have contributed to pedestrian deaths. Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University said that "Motorists who text while driving are especially apt to hit pedestrians.  Some, realizing their gross negligence, panic and quickly leave the scene."

He adds, "Our best hope for lessening this problem lies in remote camera technology allowing the perpetrators to be identified. Fortunately, much better camera systems are being rolled out all the time."

Nelson says that that for all travelers, cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike, his advice is to "Just pay attention, open your eyes, keep your head up and focus on what you're doing."


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