Distracted Walking a Problem as Pedestrian Accidents Rise


With nearly everyone owning a cell phone or smartphone, distraction is a common problem whether you’re behind the wheel, waiting for a bus, or walking down the street. It’s this latter concern that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention from phone users. Distracted walkers are at risk of being involved in a serious pedestrian accident as they update their Facebook status, send off a text, or read the latest news headlines.

According to a study from The Ohio State University, emergency room visits due to distracted walking accidents doubled from 2005 to 2010. With an increase in cellphone distractions comes an increase in pedestrian accidents, but what can be done to keep walkers and motorists safer?

Distracted walking leads to embarrassing and injurious encounters

Researchers at the Pew Research Center released data last month indicating that about a fourth of cell phone owners have physically run into another person because they were distracted by their cell phones.

The most distracted seem to be young adults. Of those ages 18-24, half of those surveyed admitted to bumping into someone or something while distracted and 70 percent said someone had bumped into them. These young adults, though accounting for most of the encounters, were not alone. People of all ages admitted to bumping into other people or things while preoccupied with their hand-held screens.

While walking directly into a person can be an embarrassing encounter, it’s nothing like walking into the path of a vehicle.

Researchers from the University of Washington observed some 1,000 pedestrians for their study and found one-third to be distracted by their phones as they crossed into high-risk intersections. Those who were texting were less likely to look both ways and to obey crossing lights.

Across the country, pedestrian fatalities are rising. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a pedestrian dies every two hours in a traffic accident.

There are no national numbers on how many of these pedestrian accidents can be blamed on distractions. First, it’s difficult to know for certain if someone was distracted in the seconds leading up to an accident, unless they admit it readily. Second, there is no uniform data collection for distracted walking accidents.

When the Department of Transportation recently announced they would spend $2 million in grants to focus on preventing pedestrian deaths, they mentioned distracted walking as a major concern.

What can be done?

Distracted driving laws may work to reduce the distractions behind the wheel, but distracted walking laws aren’t having much success with policy makers or their constituents. Bills seeking to ban some aspect of walking while distracted have failed in five different states.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The National Safety Council is seeking to raise awareness that many people die in preventable accidents causing by distractions. The city of San Francisco has launched a distracted walking awareness campaign called “Be Nice, Look Twice”.

Students in one Maryland county observe a “Moment of Silence” and are asked to take off their headphones when walking, as a 15-year old girl there was killed as she entered an intersection with headphones on and her eyes on her phone.

The easiest and simplest solution for distracted walking is to simply put your phone away. But getting this message out to the people most dependent on their devices is a challenge in itself.