Are you guilty of “distracted walking”?

Traffic law, News

Last summer, the Pokémon Go phenomenon encouraged users to get out of their game chairs and into the real world. Unfortunately, while trying to catch a Pokémon, many players dodged into busy streets (and two even fell off a cliff). But that little yellow cartoon and its cronies cannot take full blame for the problem of distracted walking.

In a society that is increasingly dependent on smartphones for communication, work, navigation, and entertainment, the sight of a pedestrian looking down at their phone is commonplace. This ubiquitous reality, however, doesn’t make distracted walking any less dangerous.

Don’t text and walk

People who text while walking pose a danger to themselves and others. And their numbers have increased to the point where they even have their own name: “petextrians.” They often veer off course and run into other pedestrians, not to mention lamp posts, trashcans, and mailboxes.

But by far the most troubling aspect of distracted walking is that it creates serious traffic hazards, especially when drivers are distracted behind the wheel as well.

In the United States, nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed in 2013, an increase of about 15 percent since 2009. And statistics indicate that distracted walking has played a role in this rising death toll:

  • The percentage of fatal pedestrian accidents involving the use of a mobile phone rose to 3.5 percent in 2010, up from less than 1 percent in 2004.
  • The number of pedestrians injured while using a cell phone has more than doubled since 2005.
  • Distracted walkers are four times less likely to look both ways before crossing the street and more likely to ignore traffic signals.
  • Almost 40 percent of U.S. teens – many of whom believe crossing the street while texting is okay – have been hit or almost hit by a passing car, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle.

Who’s to blame when accidents occur?

“If a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle while they are distracted by their phone, one of the first questions to ask is where on the road or highway was the pedestrian struck,” says Morris Lilienthal, an attorney for Martinson & Beason in Huntsville, Alabama.

“In most jurisdictions, a pedestrian has the right of way in a marked or designated crosswalk,” Lilienthal continues. “However, if the pedestrian in the crosswalk could have avoided the accident if they had not been distracted, then a jury could find the pedestrian was also at fault.”

In other words, put down the phone and watch where you’re going—whether you’re walking or driving. Far too many lives depend on it.