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The Distracted Pedestrian


From the 1970s to 2000, pedestrian deaths as a percentage of motor vehicle fatalities declined steadily. But from 2009 to the present, pedestrian fatalities have increased by 15% to 4,735 in 2013, equating to one death every two hours. According to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration, 11% of motor vehicle fatalities involve pedestrians. In addition to the increasing number of pedestrian fatalities, the number of pedestrians injured in motor vehicle accidents has risen dramatically as well. On average, a pedestrian is injured in a road accident every 8 minutes.


What accounts for this increase in pedestrian injuries and fatalities involving motor vehicles? Ironically, it was an independent technological development occurring around the same time that started the increase: the development and mass-marketing of the smart phone. Before cell phones and texting became an obsession, in 2004, the percentage of pedestrians killed while using cell phones was less than 1%. That number rose to 3.5% by 2010, according to a study at Ohio State University. In addition, the number of pedestrians injured while on cell phones has doubled during the same time period. Amazingly, 48% of cell phone users have stepped into a crosswalk while a vehicle was approaching.

While the image of the pedestrian hunched over his or her cell phone walking into a lamppost or water fountain is humorous, it stops being a laughing matter when that pedestrian is texting and walks in front of an oncoming bus. The texting pedestrian is so ubiquitous in our society that we have coined a name for him/her: petextrian. Petextrians account for the increase in pedestrian injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle accidents; with the upcoming generation of tech-savvy kids, texting and smart phone use will most likely only increase--giving rise to even more petextrians. So what can be done to reverse this deadly trend?


The alarming statistics noted above are prompting some cities to develop creative ways to address the petextrian problem. Philadelphia, which has a high number of fatalities, launched the "It's Road Safety Not Rocket Science" campaign. Other cities are also implementing educational campaigns.

One initiative is the "Moment of Silence," which calls for all devices to be turned off while crossing an intersection so that the thousands of teens who are hit by cars every year can be honored--and those crossing the intersection can do so without the distraction of any mobile device.

Some cities are fining petextrians, in essence making distracted walking an offense. Still other cities are lowering speed limits in certain urban areas, since research shows that if pedestrians are struck by motor vehicles at lower speeds, their chance of survival is much greater. Along with a lower speed limit, New York City is blocking off more streets to create pedestrian plazas to improve safety. San Francisco is looking at its high-injury corridors and is considering the creation of pedestrian refuge islands as part of its "Walk First" program.

With distracted walking becoming as dangerous as distracted driving, petextrians will hopefully heed the advice to put their heads up and their phones down!


If you or someone you love was involved in an accident with a motor vehicle as a pedestrian--or petextrian--contact Dave Thomas for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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