First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor in an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths during the first half of last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said her organization doesn’t know why there were more deaths in the first six months of 2010 than in 2009, but the increase is notable because overall traffic fatalities went down 8 percent during this period, and the increase ends four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths.
But the “get moving” movement, led by Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner.
“There’s an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle],” said Harsha, who conceded to having no scientific evidence that the Let’s Move campaign has led to an increase in walkers and runners, or deaths.
"This is all speculative," Harsha said. "Obviously, further study is needed."
The first lady's office did not respond immediately Wednesday to a request for comment.
Another culprit for the uptick in pedestrian deaths? The increasing use of technological devices, Harsha said.
"People are using more and more electronic devices -- iPods and cell phones," Harsha said. "They're distracted and not paying attention to traffic and traffic signals, they're stepping out in the street and getting hit."
According to a report released by Harsha’s agency, pedestrian deaths in the District and Virginia increased in the first half last year, while Maryland death’s decreased. In the first half of 2009, there were five pedestrians killed in D.C. and 31 in Virginia. During that same period last year, there were eight pedestrians killed in D.C. and 41 in Virginia. In Maryland, pedestrian deaths dropped from 54 to 50. After four straight years of steady declines, pedestrian deaths went up for the first six months of 2010. The increase is only 7 more deaths, or a less than 0.4 percent increase.
Significant increases occurred in states such as Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and North Carolina. Oregon notes that more than half of its pedestrians killed were under the influence of intoxicants. That state has also experienced a rise in “aggressive pedestrians” — people not using crosswalks and even some walking in the travel lane of interstates.
Highway safety spokesperson blames pedestrian deaths on Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign?
UPDATE: Scott McCabe, Reporter for the Washington Examiner, pointed out in an email to The Daily Caller that the GHSA brought up Michelle Obama in a story pitch for their report about pedestrian deaths.
Their pitch included a bullet point that read “One is the possible increase in distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers. We’ve been focusing on the drivers, but perhaps we need to focus some attention on distracted walkers! Additionally, Mrs. Obama and others have been bringing attention to “get moving” programs, so perhaps pedestrian exposure has increased.”
Additionally, another GHSA spokesperson mentioned Michelle Obama by name this morning during an interview with a local radio station. Michelle Obama is “trying to get us to walk to work and exercise a little bit more. While that’s good, it also increases our exposure to risk,” said GHSA’s Jonathan Adkins.
UPDATE: Governors Highway Safety Association Director Barbara Harsha says she was misquoted in a story alleging she blames a rise in pedestrian deaths on Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity program, according to the Atlantic.
“I was misquoted, said Harsha. “We in no way oppose Ms. Obama’s program.” She said she was trying to make a broader point about pedestrian awareness and safety. If Obama’s program is getting more people to walk, “they need to be aware of their surroundings and do so in a safe manner.”
Pedestrian deaths increased sharply during the first half of 2010, according to the GHSA.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Harsha said that while there are not yet definitive answers as to why there were more pedestrian deaths in 2010 than 2009, Obama’s “get moving” movement could be at least partially to blame.
“There’s an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle],” Harsha told the Examiner. “Obviously, further study is needed.”
Harsha also said electronic devices such as cell phones and iPods could have contributed to the higher death rate.
Obama’s “get moving” push is an effort to reduce childhood obesity rates. The movement went into overdrive early last year when President Obama created the White House task force on childhood obesity.
The increase in pedestrian deaths is notable because overall traffic deaths decreased by 8 percent. Moreover, the spike in fatalities in 2010 marks the end of four consecutive years of steady decline in pedestrian deaths.