Highway Safety Director: First Lady's Anti-Obesity Program Does Not Endanger Pedestrians

When Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, reportedly told the Washington Examiner that she was concerned the First Lady's nutrition campaign would result in more pedestrian casualties, it caused something of an uproar online. So I called the GHSA office for clarification and got Harsha on the phone.

"I was misquoted," she said immediately. "We in no way oppose Ms. Obama's program."

Instead, Harsha was trying to make a broad point about being an aware pedestrian. "We came out with a report about slight increase in pedestrian fatalities based on first six months of 2010, and we were speculating on potential causes" she said. "We think [one cause] is possibly distracted pedestrians or distracted drivers.

"If [people] do walk more, they need to be aware of their surroundings and do so in a safe manner. But we support the goal of getting people to be more active."

Harsha said her primary concern for pedestrians was the increased use of electronic devices like iPods that can block out sound and make walkers unaware of oncoming traffic. The organization has received anecdotal evidence of pedestrian injuries caused by people walking into traffic.

"I'm not aware of any studies on this issue of distracted pedestrians," she said. "It simply an aspect of the whole distraction issue."

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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