Fatalities Due to Distracted Walking On the Rise
But according to a recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), distracted walking should also be on the radar for pedestrians, drivers, law enforcement and policy makers. Although pedestrian fatalities were on a steady decline between the mid-70s and early 2000s, they have increased by 15% since 2009. The bulk of these fatalities happen to teens and young adults.
According to this infographic from Safe Kids Worldwide, pedestrian injuries for 16-19 year olds have increased by 25% in the last five years.
This alarming rise in distracted pedestrians has led to the coining of a new phrase – petextrian
Although distracted walking isn’t as dangerous as distracted driving, the risk of injury or death rises dramatically when a pedestrian is engrossed in a conversation, texting, email or general web surfing on their phone. At least 53% of adult cell phone users for example have bumped into an object or person because of this sort of distraction according to the Pew Research Center.
Unsurprisingly, this “bump rate” is highest among 18- to 24-year-olds.
The chief reason for this is “…a cellphone conversation taxes not just auditory resources in the brain but also visual functions,” explains Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. Gazzaley goes on to explain that the conversation “…prompts the listener to, for example, create visual imagery related to the conversation that overrides or obscures the processing of real images.”
As injuries and fatalities due to distracted walking continue to increase, states and other organizations are stepping up educational and enforcement efforts
To combat the issue of “petextrians,” various states, localities and interest groups are ramping up educational efforts aimed at getting pedestrians, especially teens and young adults, to put their phone away and focus on walking.
The City of Philadelphia for example has its creative It’s Road Safety Not Rocket Science campaign that aims to educate the both pedestrians and drivers in the city to stop, look and listen to where they’re going. This satirical, yet engaging video produced by the campaign illustrates the issue quite well. Police in the “City of Brotherly Love” are also issuing mock tickets in areas with high pedestrian fatalities.
Gainesville, home of the University of Florida and many pedestrians, is also taking a proactive approach by using plain-clothed officers to monitor crosswalks and popular crossing spots. The city also took other cost-effective steps like installing signage and educational initiatives to warn both drivers and pedestrians.
Several other states and localities are employing creative methods to help pedestrians understand the dangers of distracted walking.
Although fatalities remain high, safety experts and law enforcement officials are confident a mix of education and enforcement will help alleviate the problem of distracted walking.
If you’re walking down the street, realize that you too can be harmed if you’re distracted and not aware of your surroundings. Keep the smartphone in your pocket, but if you must look at it, stop in a safe place where you will not be hit by a motorist or some other hazard.