In previous posts, we discussed the growing concern and safety issues caused by distracted driving. There is another danger related to increased use cell phones and other mobile electronic devices: distracted walking. According to the Seattle Times, over 60,000 people are injured and 4,000 people die each year from vehicle-vs-pedestrian incidents. There were 529 pedestrians injured in motor vehicle collisions in 2010, including 6 fatalities. A recent study by the University of Washington which surveyed 1,000 pedestrians in 20 high-risk intersections found distracted walking may be a contributing factor to the growing number of pedestrian deaths caused by motor vehicle collisions each year. The study found that 30% of pedestrians listened to music, texted or talked on the phone while crossing the street. Pedestrians engaged in text messaging were four times less likely to look before crossing the street or obey traffic signals. Those listening to music tended to walk faster and not look for traffic before stepping into the street. It is easy to see that such conduct raises the risk of serious injury to pedestrians in any situation where motor vehicles are involved, including transit stops, railroad crossings and subway platforms.
Currently, there is no law prohibiting distracted walking in Washington, but some states, including Arkansas, Delaware, and Illinois, have attempted unsuccessfully to pass such measures in recent years. It is clear from the UW study and statistics from emergency departments nationwide that distracted walking is a very dangerous activity. However, operators of motor vehicles are not relieved of their heightened duty imposed by the “Rules of the Road” to watch out for and avoid striking pedestrians, regardless of whether they are present in a crosswalk, or their attention is diverted by a cell phone or other electronic device, or some other distraction.
RCW 46.61.235 – Crosswalks
(1) The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For purposes of this section “half of the roadway” means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel, and includes the entire width of a one-way roadway.
RCW 46.61.261 – Sidewalks, crosswalks; Pedestrians, bicycles
(1) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian or bicycle on a sidewalk.
Automobile drivers should always be on the lookout for all possible hazards. As the popularity and prevalence of hand-held electronic devices grows, it is essential to exercise greater caution with pedestrians, especially if they are using an electronic device. If you see a pedestrian using a cell phone or other device, it is very likely they are not paying attention to their surroundings. Please be on the lookout for distracted walkers while driving. If you have children, be sure to teach them when it is appropriate to use their hand-held, and when to hang up.