Why “Distracted Walking” Is a Real Issue and One that We Should All Worry About

Walking in the city can pose many hazards including construction, bicyclists, other pedestrians, and safely crossing the street. Make sure that you take the proper precautions for your own safety.

Posted by Michael Leizerman

There is little doubt that distracted driving is a serious problem that’s growing at an exponential rate in today’s smartphone-addicted society. Numerous organizations and government entities are feverishly attempting to curtail the dangerous trend… to little avail. Yet, those who can’t keep their phone in their pocket or purse while behind the wheel aren’t the only ones to threaten the safety of themselves and those with whom they share the road. More and more, we’re witnessing the plight of the distracted pedestrian and the havoc they can cause.

The Problem is Growing

The problem has become so prevalent, that an annual statistical report published by the National Safety Council — Injury Facts — added the category of “cell phone distracted walking” in 2015 to their main causes of accidental injury or death for the first time. The data also showed a worrisome trend where the number of reported accidents had approximately doubled every five years between 2000 and 2011 alone. Now in 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) claims that annual pedestrian fatalities have made a record jump (11 percent) to over 6,000 deaths—the highest number in over two decades. Melody Geraci—deputy executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago-based advocacy group for better walking, cycling and public transportation options—does not find this trend surprising. “After speeding and the failure to yield, distractions are the number three cause of pedestrian fatalities, particularly by electronic devices.”

There’s No Accountability

Yet, what’s more disturbing than such an increase is the pervasive mentality of “it’s not me, it’s you”—according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). In conducting their Distracted Walking Study, they polled 500 respondents each in the major metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta and Seattle. What they learned is that 78 percent of U.S. adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue, but only 29 percent of respondents believe that they themselves have an issue.

Solutions Are In Short Supply

So what’s being done about it? Well, last year the city of Augsburg, Germany decided to embed traffic signals into the crosswalk pavement for pedestrians who are constantly looking down. And just this week, Honolulu, Hawaii became the first U.S. city to make it illegal to text or even look at an electronic device while crossing the street (effective Oct. 25, 2017). While interesting and potentially effective measures, neither really addresses the issue of what amounts to a national (if not global) addiction to smartphone use—the one common “distraction” to drivers and walkers alike that could outpace any and all efforts to control it if we’re not careful.

I personally know this is a tough habit to break. I’ve walked down the street looking at my cell phone and bumped into people. I’ve now made a commitment to never text and cross the street. When you cross the street, please pay attention to what’s going on around you—your life depends on it!

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