We already know that distracted driving is a leading cause of vehicle crashes, and the increasing use of hand-held devices is only making the dangers worse. Add to that a whole new problem: distracted walking. According to safety.com, “Each year, more and more people are injured as a result of texting, talking or listening to music on their cell phones [while walking].” Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that the total rate of pedestrian fatalities compared to overall road deaths is getting worse each year. Some towns have gone so far as to ban texting while walking; in Fort Lee, NJ, being caught texting while jaywalking will cost you an $85 fine.
In 2017, National Public Radio (NPR) cited a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) that showed an 11 percent increase over one year in the number of pedestrians killed in traffic. A GHSA spokesperson said that safety experts didn’t expect the increase in pedestrian deaths to so significantly outpace other traffic fatalities. “It is alarming,” says GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkin.
Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, said NSC data indicates increases over the years “in the number of injuries related to distracted walking—pedestrians being distracted by cell phones and then injuring themselves because of that distraction. “So it’s entirely possible that is at play, not just on our roadways but on our sidewalks.”
Too many people are endangering themselves by walking around with their eyes glued to the small screen. “We are crazy distracted,” Melody Geraci, deputy executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago group advocating for better walking, cycling and public transportation options, told NPR. “After speeding and the failure to yield, distractions are the number three cause [of pedestrian fatalities], particularly by electronic devices.”
Electronic devices are not wholly responsible for the high numbers of pedestrian deaths. Another significant factor, said the GHSA report, is alcohol. While drunk drivers hit 15 percent of pedestrians killed each year, 34 percent of pedestrians deaths—that’s one-third of the total— are of walkers who are themselves legally drunk.
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