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Is There a Link Between Smartphone Distractions and the Many Pedestrian Fatalities in Philadelphia?

Report Cites Link Between Smartphones and Pedestrian Deaths

Just how dangerous is it to use your smartphone while you are walking in Philadelphia? Are you at higher risk of a serious or fatal pedestrian accident? Most of us have heard about the dangers of distracted driving—in particular, the use of smartphones for talking or texting behind the wheel—yet distracted walking is not as frequently discussed. However, according to a recent article from CBS News, a new report suggests that a spike in pedestrian fatalities in Philadelphia and across the country may be linked to smartphones and distracted walking.

As the article explains, “the United States saw its largest annual increase in pedestrian fatalities since such record keeping began 40 years ago.” According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), around 6,000 pedestrian deaths occurred in 2016, and that is the highest number the GHSA has seen in about 20 years. Moreover, the rate of pedestrian fatalities over recent years has grown drastically. “Since 2010, pedestrian fatalities have grown at four times the rate of overall traffic deaths.” Why are so many pedestrian accidents happening?

According to Richard Rettig, the author of report, the figure is unprecedented and “the why is elusive.” He emphasized that we do not currently have a clear answer as to why the rate of pedestrian deaths has risen so drastically, but we do know that one factor playing a role in the rising death rate has also shifted dramatically over the last several years: the use of smartphones. Use of wireless data “more than doubled” from 2014 to 2015 in the United States, and that number will only continue to grow. Therefore, Rettig links the higher death rates to accidents caused by both distracted drivers (using smartphones) and distracted walkers (also using smartphones). If you are behind the wheel and look down at your phone to read a text for even a few seconds, you can accidentally strike a pedestrian. At the same time, if you are walking at night and are engrossed in a text conversation, you might not notice if a driver ran a stop sign or a red light, and you may not be able to get out of the way in time.

Prevent Distracted Walking and Dangerous Pedestrian Accidents 

What can you do to prevent pedestrian accidents? According to a tip sheet from SafeKids.org, one of the first steps involves taking action against distracted walking and distracted driving. Stay safe and teach your children to stay safe by following the tips recommended below:

  • Teach your children to avoid using their smartphones and any other devices whenever they cross the street (especially teenagers);
  • Require your kids to take out their headphones or to turn down the volume before they cross a street so that they can be aware of traffic noises and oncoming cars;
  • Pay attention to other potentially distracted walkers and say something if another pedestrian looks like he or she might be in danger;
  • Teach your kids that, if they need to use a cell phone while they are out walking, they should find a safe place where they can stop and use the phone;
  • Set a good example for your kids and put your smartphone away and turn down your headphones when you cross the street or when you are walking near cars;
  • Put your cell phone and any other technological distractions in the backseat (and thus out of reach) whenever you are driving;
  • Be particularly alert when you are driving in school zones or other areas with a lot of pedestrians who could step into the street without warning; and
  • Always give pedestrians the right of way.
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