Pedestrian deaths are climbing at a record rate, according to preliminary estimates released Thursday.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projects that 5,997 people were killed on foot last year, which would be the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in more than two decades.
That figure would also be an 11 percent increase from the previous year and the steepest year-to-year jump since record-keeping began, both in terms of the number of deaths and the percent increase, according to the GHSA.
In 2015, there was a 9 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2014.
"This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming," said report author Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants.
"It is critical that the highway safety community understand these disturbing statistics and work to aggressively implement effective countermeasures. The information in this report will help states and localities pursue engineering, enforcement and education solutions to reverse this trend."
The report, based on data from the states, comes at a time when traffic fatalities are also soaring.
There has been an increase in driving because of an improving economy and low gas prices, even as more Americans are also choosing to travel by foot for health, economic or environmental reasons. That combination could be driving the rise in pedestrian deaths.
But another potential factor is a sharp rise in the use of smartphones, which is a source of mental and visual distraction for both walkers and drivers, according to the GHSA.
"Everyone walks, and we want to encourage that, but at the same time we want to make sure that we all get to our destinations safely," said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA’s executive director.
"Unfortunately, this latest data shows that the U.S. is not meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways. Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight which is absolutely unacceptable."