U.S. pedestrian deaths are rising and according to researchers people distracted by cell phones may be the biggest reason. 

The Governors Highway Safety Association reported nearly 6,000 pedestrian deaths for 2016, the highest figure in more than 20 years. 

Researchers say the 11 percent spike in pedestrian fatalities stems partly from drivers and pedestrians looking at their cell phone or another electronic device while on the road or walking.

Walking and miles driven are up only a few percentage points, and are unlikely to account for most of the surge in pedestrian deaths, said Richard Retting, safety director for Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants and the author of the report.

Meanwhile, texting and use of wireless devices have exploded, he said.

"It’s the only factor that that seems to indicate a dramatic change in how people behave," Retting said.

He also said pedestrian deaths are far outpacing the rise in overall traffic deaths, climbing 25 percent from 2010 to 2015.

(AP contributed to this report.)

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