Is Texting While Walking A New Roadside Danger?

August 1, 2012 — With all the publicity surrounding No Texting and Driving initiatives and other distracted driving legislation, another facet of the cellphone complications not widely acknowledged has recently come into light — that of distracted walking. The unsung danger was thrust into the spotlight following the Associated Press’s release of a surveillance video in which a Philadelphia man on a cell phone stumbled on to the subway tracks below. Luckily, he was able to scramble out before a train came, but his brush with death highlights a problem that is in great need of an intervention.

Pedestrian injuries involving an electronic distraction have more than quadrupled in the past decade, but the numbers are difficult to pin down because it is common for technological involvement to go unreported. While the injuries and deaths continue to mount, cities launch initiatives and wonder if it’s time to consider laws and regulations to prevent more accidents.

Beware Careless Workers sign from RoadTrafficSigns.com

Distracted Walking campaigns are no new thing, this sign was posted in the 1950s to remind drivers to be mindful of pedestrians (via RoadTrafficSigns).

The Utah Transit Authority has led the wave by adopting an ordinance preventing pedestrians from using electronic devices while crossing tracks of a light rail in Salt Lake City. Violators in Salt Lake City risk a $50 fine, but Utah state legislature has refused to adopt the policy state wide.

Delaware has turned to a public campaign, posting signs that will hopefully make pedestrians (and drivers) more aware. While pedestrians have been granted the right of way, a failure to look at traffic lights or even to simply look both ways before crossing the street has created a dangerous problem.

Pedestrian safety sign from PedestrianSigns.com

Even with right-of-way, pedestrians should pay attention to their surroundings (via PedestrianSafetySigns.com).

Philadelphia, following the train incident, took the most humorous approach by sectioning off part of downtown sidewalks and labeling them “e-lanes.” The idea was an April Fool’s Joke that took a more serious turn when many people assumed the lanes were there to stay.

While the extent to which legislation would prevent people from using their smartphones is unclear, the idea is already highly contested. “Look, I get distracted all the time,” said Utah Republican Rep. Craig Frank, when asked about the possibility of legislation. “I have a smartphone too, but I try to stay connected to my environment. I never thought the government needed to cite me for using my cellphone in a reasonable manner.” The point seems to be that people feel it is their responsibility to stay safe and their right to be distracted.

– K. Howitt

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