Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies and lawmakers are already trying to convey warning messages to drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Officials are now concerned about a new traffic problem that could defy regulation — pedestrians accidents caused by walkers preoccupied by electronic devices.
Don’t believe this is a problem? A Philadelphia security camera zeroed in on a man so engaged in a cellphone conversation that he tumbled off the side of a train platform. The man was fortunate that no trains were on the tracks at the time, but the incident raised an alarm with safety authorities.
Train officials said the actions of the pedestrian in the video, which gained nationwide attention, are not exceptions. A six-year University of Maryland study found that more than 100 pedestrians had been wearing headphones at the time they were injured or killed. Half of the victims were hit by trains. Most victims were under the age of 30.
Preoccupied pedestrians seem to be a problem in plain sight. More than 1,100 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms last year for distracted pedestrian injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That figure only includes patients who admitted electronic devices played a part in their injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 19 percent spike in pedestrian injuries in 2010. Pedestrian deaths rose just over 4 percent from the year before despite statistics that showed overall traffic deaths were down.
Lawmakers in three states have unsuccessfully introduced bills trying to prevent walking accidents. Many electronic device users feel legal restrictions on electronic devices would interfere with rights to personal freedom.
Some states are taking soft stabs at educating the public about the dangers of multitasking while walking. Delaware authorities placed distracted walking warnings on pavements at intersections. Philadelphia officials are hoping to institute a similar safety campaign soon.
Source: Associated Press, “Pedestrians distracted by electronic devices stumble into danger, raising safety concerns,” July 30, 2012