Pedestrian Peril: Smartphones?

In Minnesota and across the country, pedestrian traffic deaths are either on the increase or not declining in step with overall crash tolls. This could be due partly to stagnation or reduction in per capita vehicle miles traveled and a resulting increase in transportation on foot. Now a children's safety group has pointed to another possible cause: "distracted walking."

"We have distracted drivers who may be hitting pedestrians in the street," Kate Carr, president of Washington, D.C.-based Safe Kids Worldwide, told USA TODAY. "But we also have distracted pedestrians who are walking in front of cars."

Drivers thumbing their smartphones are a well-known traffic hazard, the target of a persistent safety campaign by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. But distracted pedestrians? This sounds like a riff on the old joke about the challenges of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Take it seriously, says Safe Kids Worldwide. Although no formal studies have linked pedestrian casualties with mobile device use, the group hypothesizes that electronic distraction is behind a recent uptick in traffic deaths and injuries among pedestrians 19 and under. This follows 15 years of steady decline in those statistics. In addition, the pedestrian death rate for older teens, roughly equal to that of children 5 to 9 years old in 1995, was three times as great in 2010.

Minnesota recorded 40 pedestrian deaths in 2011, up from 36 in 2010, according to the Department of Public Safety's Crash Facts. Of the victims, only two were teenagers, but another nine were in their 20s. The most commonly documented contributing actions by pedestrian victims were alcohol impairment and illegal crossing. Of the 40 victims, the actions of 15 of them leading to the collision were unknown. Not one was reported to have been distracted by a mobile device.

This could be blamed on a lack of official awareness of the risks of distracted walking. Or it could mean Safe Kids' warnings are much ado about nothing. But with young adults and teens increasingly eschewing driving in favor of mobile connectivity -- the Pew Research Center found that teens send and receive an average of 110 text messages daily -- Safe Kids probably is onto something.

Even if not, it just makes sense for everyone traveling our streets and highways, on foot, bicycle, car or anything else, to stash the smartphone until they're out of harm's way.

Posted in Transportation | Related Topics: Technology  Road Safety 

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