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UT researchers: 'Walking under the influence' plays a role in fatal car accidents

Drunk walking isn't just people bar hopping on a Saturday night.

We know drinking and driving is bad, but what about drinking and walking?

Drunk walking isn't just people bar hopping on a Saturday night.

It's a danger to people of all ages, some choosing to walk instead of drive after drinking, but on roads not meant for pedestrians.

"Drunk people get hit by cars, right?" notes Dr. Chris Cherry, professor of civil engineering at UT.

That unfortunate problem that got him thinking, why is so much education put in to drunk driving, but not drunk walking?

"Pedestrian and bike crashes have really been going up over time and there's not a lot of answers as to why," said Cherry.

So he and Ph.D. student Amin Mohamadi sat down with the data.

"We studied something that was neglected in the past," said Mohamadi.

Funded by the US Department of Transporation, the pair looked at car vs. pedestrian crashes statewide reported from 2011-2016.

There were 11,309.

Cherry said about 100 pedestrians die from these crashes each year, and of the fatalities, 22 percent of those people had alcohol in their systems.

Men were more likely to be hit while walking drunk, as were middle aged people.

"Most of these crashes happened during the night. On Friday night, on Saturday night, on Sunday night. At the times for fun," said Mohamadi.

Locally, these crashes aren't happening in "fun" places like downtown Knoxville or Cumberland Avenue.

"In the Old City if you get hit by a car you may not die," said Cherry. "Why? Because you're on a low-speed street, well lit."

It's when people venture on to bigger, darker roadways that things get dangerous.

"Let's say Chapman Highway or Broadway or maybe Kingston Pike," said Cherry.

People walking instead of driving under the influence, because we're taught it's the smart thing to do.

While controlling your alcohol intake is important, this issue comes down to drivers being extra vigilant for people walking by.

"Take care of your fellow Knoxvillians," said Cherry.

He and Mohamadi are continuing to study substance abuse in traffic accidents, looking at other alcohol related crashes and any tie in with the opioid crisis.

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