Photo courtesy of IIHS.

Photo courtesy of IIHS.

A new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety urges greater efforts to combat intoxication among pedestrians and bicyclists, citing research that more than one-third of pedestrians and one-fifth of bicyclists killed in crashes in 2014 were alcohol-impaired.

Drunken pedestrians and bicyclists are much more likely to engage in high-risk behavior on streets, previous research has shown. For example, alcohol-impaired pedestrians are sometimes more willing to try to cross the street when and where it’s unsafe. Bicyclists under the influence of alcohol often drive erratically. 

Among fatally injured pedestrians, the incidence of alcohol impairment has declined in the past few decades — but not nearly as sharply as it has dropped among fatally injured drivers in passenger vehicles.

The percentage of fatally injured pedestrians with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08% or higher dipped from 45% in 1982 to 35% in 2014, researchers discovered. Additionally, the percentage for bicyclists dropped from 28% to 21%. But the percentage for passenger vehicle drivers fell more dramatically from 51% to 32%.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) researchers relied on 1982-2014 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During the years studied, fatally injured pedestrians and bicyclists in the 16-20 age group represented the group that experienced the largest reduction in alcohol impairment.

During the most recent study period — 2010 to 2014 — fatally injured pedestrians and bicyclists in the 40-49 age group had the greatest odds of having a high BAC, IIHS researchers found.

“Education and enforcement campaigns aimed at reducing impaired driving may give people the erroneous impression that walking or riding a bike is a safe alternative,” said IIHS Senior Research Scientist Angela Eichelberger, the study’s lead author. “The public needs to be better informed about the dangers of alcohol impairment for anybody on the road.”

The report points out that restaurants and bars could help prevent the problem by enforcing restrictions on serving alcohol to customers who are obviously intoxicated. Moreover, the proliferation of ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, provide a convenient means for getting home.

To download the study, click here.