Look Out for That Distracted Pedestrian!

While viral videos of people smacking into street signs may be funny, people walking around with their eyes glued to their cell phone screens is no laughing matter.  According to the latest findings from the Governors Highway Safety Association, 6,227 pedestrians died in traffic accidents across in 2018, the highest number in nearly 30 years. And, according to the experts, “petextrians” – people who text while walking, may be partly to blame.

Texting while walking is so dangerous, in fact, that it is outlawed in a number of U.S. cities. Legislation passed in 2017 in Honolulu allows police officers to fine pedestrians for looking at their phone while crossing a street, making it the first major U.S city to do so.

The issue, however, is not limited to texting while walking.  Talking, checking email, using social networking apps and playing games all contribute to the problem. Consequently, professional drivers should do all they can to help decrease the likelihood of being involved in a collision with a distracted walker:

  • Get prepared – Before leaving, clean your windshield, windows and mirrors, and check mirror settings to maximize your field of view.  Know your route and anticipate where you will encounter the most pedestrian activity.

  • Keep your eyes moving – Look at least 20-30 seconds ahead, and scan from side to side to help spot pedestrians approaching the roadway.  While all people on foot deserve your attention, those using hand-held devices and/or wearing headphones can be most problematic.  Watch for clues to their intended actions.

  • Yield the right of way – When you see a pedestrian, slow down and be prepared to give way.  Make eye contact and ensure the pedestrian takes action that acknowledges your presence (i.e., stops, waves, etc.).  If they don’t, this could be a sign that they may be paying more attention to their cell phones than the traffic and exercise caution.

  • Approach intersections with care – Distracted walkers are more likely to ignore traffic lights or neglect to look both ways before crossing the road.  Headphones can also make pedestrians oblivious to the sounds of danger. Look several times before turning as pedestrians are easy to miss when they’re in your blind spots.

  • Remain vigilant – Although intersections are high risk areas for distracted pedestrians, keep an eye out in heavily congested areas, in parking lots, while driving on streets lined with parked cars and when backing up.

  • Be especially mindful of teenagers – Many teens fail to understand the importance of putting devices down when crossing the street. As a result, teens have a death rate twice that of younger children and account for half of all child pedestrian deaths, according to SafeKids.org.

  • Consider driving conditions – Poor weather conditions and lighting can diminish your ability to see. Use extra caution and reduce your speed in bad weather and at nighttime.  Doing so will help give you an extra margin of safety should a petextrian step into your path of travel.