We’ve all been warned about the dangers of distracted driving. But what about distracted walking? Distracted walking even has a term now – “Pedtextrian” – defined as anyone who walks while texting, tweeting, gaming, talking, surfing the web or listening to headphones.
Between the mid-1970s and early 2000s, pedestrian deaths steadily declined, eventually dipping to around 11 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report. But since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have actually increased by 15 percent — climbing to 4,735 in 2013. That’s one pedestrian death every two hours. Meanwhile, the percentage of pedestrians killed while using cell phones has risen, from less than 1 percent in 2004 to more than 3.5 percent in 2010, according to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, cited by the GHSA report. And the number of pedestrians injured while on their cells has more than doubled since 2005, the report shows. The GHSA report also provides the following statistics:
- 54% of adult cell phone users have run into something or someone while distracted by their devices;
- Nearly half of the pedestrians crossing at busy intersections do so while engaged in distracting activities;
- 40% of teens have been injured or nearly injured by a car, motorcycle, or bike, and the risk doubles when they are distracted by cellular devices;
- In the case of students, one in five high schoolers and one in eight middle schoolers cross the street while distracted.
The problem is particularly prevalent among kids and teens, who tend to believe it’s okay to cross the street while texting or tweeting. Indeed, my family has experienced the dangers of distracted walking first-hand. Shortly after Christmas last year my son, then 5 years old, was walking while playing a game on his iPad. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I noticed until he missed a curb and fell. Luckily for us, he was not seriously injured.
How wide-spread is this problem? Apparently serious enough that the National Safety Council (NSA) has officially added distracted walking to its annual report of unintentional deaths and injuries. Perhaps one of the saddest examples of this danger is the story of Joshua Burwell. In hopes of photographing one of the famous sunsets from Sunset Cliffs during his visit to Southern California, Burwell became so preoccupied with taking the picture that he fell from the cliff more than forty feet to his death. Death and injury for something so obvious as “looking where you are going” seems like a cruel joke, but it’s a punchline being delivered with increasing frequency in our daily lives. Most of us don’t even think about the potential dangers as we turn our eyes away from our physical environment to focus — even briefly — on our virtual one. The risk simply isn’t worth a few moments of difference in the time it takes you to “like” a video clip or a picture. Please, don’t be a pedtextrian.