Distracted walkers are increasingly creating dangerous situations for themselves and others. Many individuals seem unwilling to put away their distracting mobile devices—even when crossing intersections. The problem is often attributed primarily to children or teenagers; however, Sam Wamugu, a researcher who has studied the issue, says that people of all ages are participating in this dangerous behavior. Governmental agencies are recognizing the problem. In Australia, a Road Traffic Act was recently implemented that imposes a fine on those walking while using mobile devices. In Fort Lee, New Jersey, those who are texting while walking may face a fine of $85.
A report from Stony Brook University found that individuals who are texting while they walk will veer from a sidewalk or other path about 60% of the time. Their data further suggests that texting and walking alone has caused over 11,000 injuries across the country. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that last year there were approximately 5,376 pedestrian fatalities. These numbers have continued to increase as the prevalence of mobile device usage has risen.
At-Risk Age Groups
Safe Kids Worldwide in Washington D.C. posted a report that says roughly 50% of pedestrian deaths involved people between 15 and 19 years of age. The company president, Kate Carr, explained that the rise in injuries to teenagers appears to “correlate with the prevalence" of cell phone use. Their study shows that approximately 20% of high schoolers routinely cross the street while actively using a mobile device.
David Levinson, an engineer and author for the newsletter Transportist, has spent time studying how traffic signals can be improved. He feels that traffic lights at intersections cater to drivers rather than pedestrians. One proven method to enhance safety is called a leading pedestrian interval. This allows pedestrians to have a few extra seconds prior to when vehicles can begin turning. He also recommends employment of a “scramble crosswalk” at more heavily traveled intersections that briefly brings vehicles in all directions to a stop to allow pedestrian crossing.
As vehicle-to-vehicle communication develops it is possible that vehicle-to-pedestrian real-time communication and alerts could also assist with accident prevention.
At a Chongqing, China, theme park they implemented a 100-foot long lane that is designated exclusively for those using their phone while walking. In Honolulu, those using a mobile device while crossing a street may be fined $99. In Montclair, California, you may be ticketed for walking with headphones on in a crosswalk.
A recent report with the heading “Head Up, Phone Down” from the National Safety Council outlines a host of tips for pedestrians to consider when they are encountering traffic:
- Pedestrians should attempt to make eye contact with drivers to determine if they can see you
- Those who are walking should be conscious of when they may be in a vehicle's “blind spot” area.
- Refrain from using headphone when walking near traffic
- Pedestrians should try to make themselves visible to the flow of traffic and wear light or reflective colors
- Always use marked crosswalks when available