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Distracted Mobility


The July 4th weekend promises to be another 2016 holiday in which record-setting numbers of people travel to enjoy family and festivities. Currently, AAA estimates 43 million Americans will travel between June 30 and July 4, and the vast majority of them--36 million--will do so by motor vehicle. The sheer number of people moving around the country by various means during a weekend full of food, family, friends and fireworks puts a sharp focus on what can be collectively referred to as "distracted mobility."


The scope of the problem is staggering: in the U.S., every day more than 8 people are killed and over 1,161 injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. In 2013, nearly one in five crashes resulting in injuries involved a distracted driver. Young drivers are particularly at risk; an AAA poll shows that while 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, 35% admit to doing it anyway. Of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents, 21% were distracted by their cell phones. Even in-vehicle technologies can be deadly, despite being hands-free, because they are cognitive distractions.


While it may defy logic--and common sense--more and more bicyclists are seen holding and using electronic devices. Not only are these hand-held devices cognitive distractions, but with bicyclists they are visual and manual distractions as well. A number of cities and states are banning bicyclists from using hand-held cellphones or from texting while cycling. Several states ban bicyclists from using headphones or earplugs.

Many lawmakers believe that bicycles should be considered vehicles under state codes; if they are, then laws prohibiting texting while driving, headsets and earplugs while driving would apply to bicycles as well. This is the case in Georgia, where bicycles are defined as motor vehicles and all laws pertaining to motor vehicles and their drivers therefore pertain to cyclists. See Georgia Motor Vehicle and Traffic: Uniform Rules of the Road Law, Title 40.

Some cycling advocacy groups resist the application of distracted driving laws to bicycling, arguing that distracted drivers are much more dangerous than distracted cyclists. While it is true that distracted drivers wield a two-ton hunk of steel that can inflict massive damage, distracted cyclists who veer into traffic or an intersection can set into motion a multi-car crash with those same two-ton vehicles, or even cause those vehicles to veer away from the cyclist and into a pedestrian. Arguing that a distracted cyclist is not dangerous because he or she is on a bicycle rather than in a car ignores the reality of modern traffic.


Distracted walking is now a category in the National Safety Council report on unintentional deaths and injuries. Pursuant to that new category and according to an Ohio State University study, over 1,500 distracted walking injuries requiring Emergency Department treatment have been reported; 10% of all pedestrian injury visits to the Emergency Department are due to distracted walking.

Between the mid-1979s and the early 2000s, pedestrian deaths steadily declined. Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have increased by 15% to 4,735, or one pedestrian death every two hours. One can speculate as to the sudden cause of the reversal in pedestrian deaths, but the emergence of the smartphone around that time must be considered.

Petextrians, as pedestrians who are distracted by texting while walking have come to be called, are now as ubiquitous as the cellphones they hold. Petextrians take longer to cross the street, are more likely to ignore traffic lights, and often fail to look both ways before crossing a street. Although distracted walkers argue that they are not dangerous to anyone but themselves, just as with distracted cyclists, such an argument ignores the reality of modern life. Distracted walkers can veer off course by as much as 60%, putting them in the path of people and traffic that must then veer off their courses to avoid collision. Such an unplanned chain of events can lead to very unfortunate consequences.


Distracted mobility in any form--driving, bicycling or walking--is never a good idea and very often leads to injury. If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident with a distracted driver, cyclist or pedestrian, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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