Maybe like a lot of people, I read with surprise and alarm the initial details about how, early on New Year's Day, a 21-year-old Walnut Creek man died after being hit by a California Highway Patrol officer while walking in South Lake Tahoe.
Getting hit by a CHP vehicle while he was just out walking? How unlikely is that?
Well, in reading past the first paragraph of the various news stories, I learned that this fatal accident possibly reveals a very real public safety hazard that doesn't get a lot of attention.
We all know from years of public safety campaigns and news stories that drinking and driving are a dangerous combination. But drinking and walking can also be deadly.
Alex M. Moore appeared to have alcohol in his system when he was struck and killed, according to news reports quoting the Nevada Highway Patrol. He also was walking in the middle of the night in an area that doesn't sound very pedestrian friendly.
The area is a minimally lighted, 45-mph stretch of four-lane highway Highway 50, about two miles east of the state border. The Nevada Highway patrol said Moore, dressed in denim jeans and a black jacket, was actually walking in an eastbound travel lane when a CHP Ford Expedition in the same lane tried to avoid him, according to Walnut Creek Patch and the KOLO TV website.
Injuries to pedestrians struck by motor vehicles represent a significant public health hazard, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the United States, 4,092 pedestrians were killed in the United States, and alcohol was a major factor in those deaths. Thirty-seven percent of fatally injured pedestrians 16 and older had blood alcohol concentrations at or above 0.08 percent.
The percentage rose to 53 percent for crashes occurring between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The accident involving Moore occurred at about 12:40 a.m. The officer who struck him was returning to the Truckee station from New Year's Eve duties at a group of casinos in Stateline, Walnut Creek Patch reported.
A toxicology analysis is being conducted to determine whether Moore was under the influence. That report should take four to six weeks.
It turns out that Moore also was killed on what happens to be the deadliest day of the year for pedestrians, according to the journal Injury Prevention, cited in an article Drunk Walking as Lethal as Drunk Driving. In 2005, the journal reported that 410 pedestrians were killed on New Year's Day between 1986 and 2002. Fifty-eight percent of those people had high blood-alcohol levels.
So, just as alcohol impairs someone's ability to drive, it also impairs the person's ability to move safely, either while walking in public or just around the house.
Traffic safety experts say that people going out to drink have to take precautions, even if they are not going to drive. If they are going to walk at night, they should not wear dark clothing. They should also stay on sidewalks, cross at designated crosswalks, and not walk alone. That's right: just as people will now appoint someone in the group to be a designated driver, they should walk with at least one person who has not been drinking.