Over the past few years, many – even most – of the United States have passed laws meant to curb distracted driving. Some are specific to the practice of texting, others are broader, and apply to any instance where the driver of a car is using an electronic device such as a cell phone, while operating a vehicle. Varying widely from state to state, the penalties for infractions are as little as $25 for a first offense, to significant fines, points on a driver’s record, and even a suspended license.
Earlier this year, though, one major city – New York – noticed that over the fiscal year which ended on June 30 there was a spike in its traffic fatalities, and according to the transportation commissioner, part of the blame can be pinned on distracted pedestrians.
In the fiscal year mentioned, the number of traffic fatalities involving either pedestrians or bicyclists totaled 176 – an eleven percent increase over the previous fiscal year – and New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan suggested to reporters from the New York Times last month that smartphones, iPhones and other handheld electronics could be the cause. Specifically, she quipped about iPhone not yet having an app that could warn users when they were approaching a crosswalk.
Further, Sadik-Khan shared, she herself has stopped distracted walkers from crossing the street in front of moving vehicles because they were so absorbed in whatever their techie toys were doing.
But New York isn’t alone in this new epidemic. A recent editorial in the Washington Post, “Pedestrian Deaths Show Need to Curb Distracted Walking,” said that the government should consider enacting legislation that would require pedestrians to pay attention to their surroundings, and suggested that neither the legislature nor pedestrians took the concept of distracted walking at all seriously.
And it is serious.
A recently-released report from the U.S. Department of Transportation says that in 2010, roughly 70,000 pedestrians were injured and 4,280 killed in traffic accidents, four percent more than in 2009, and thirteen percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States, as well as three percent of all injuries in crashes.
Generally speaking, when there’s a pedestrian hurt or killed in a car crash, the driver of the car is considered to be at fault, even if it was the person on foot who caused the incident. Likewise, it’s the driver who has to face a traffic ticket, elevated insurance premiums, and the knowledge that they were partly responsible for an injury or death.
Sadly, there’s no solution yet. It’s easy to tell people to look up from their phones, but will they listen, or are we facing a future where drivers have to buy uninsured pedestrian insurance?