Are "Distracted Walkers" a Major Concern, or Is It Just More Blaming the Victim?

©. Alan Levine on Flickr

The Pew Charitable Trust blog Stateline titles a post 'Distracted Walkers' Are Major Concern for Cities and States and manages to take blaming the victim to a whole new level. Tim Henderson of Pew writes:

Pedestrian injuries due to cell phone use are up 35 percent since 2010, according to federal emergency room data reviewed by Stateline, and some researchers blame at least 10 percent of the 78,000 pedestrian injuries in the U.S. in 2012 on mobile device distraction. The federal Fatality Analysis Reporting system attributes about a half-dozen pedestrians deaths a year to “portable electronic devices,” including phones and music players.

They actually continue with the statement that " New York state has lowered speed limits in New York City, in part to make traffic less dangerous for distracted walkers." Which was mentioned as a reason for lowering speed limits not ever.

Pew Pew Pew on this.

Accidents due to phones

Pew Charitable Trust/via

There is no question that walking while texting is dumb and dangerous. And indeed, the statistics show that the number of injuries related to texting or talking has increased by 35%, from 813 to 1,105. Which is a grand total of 1.14% of the 78,000 injuries caused by cars hitting people each year. But Pew insists that it's under-reported. Lets leave that be and look at the bigger picture.

smart phone use

© Statista

During the same period that the accidents blamed on the use of mobile devices went up 35%, the use of smart phones went up 250% in the USA, to 144.5 million. (I am assuming that smart phones are more distracting than old cellphones because you look at them more) So the rate of injuries per smart phone users as dropped from 1 per every 76,260 smart phone users in 2010 to 1 per every 130,769 smart phone users, a drop of 41%. Perhaps they should be congratulated.

OK, crossing a road while texting or looking at your phone is not the smartest thing in the world. However the problem is statistically negligible, and is really just victim-blaming; the few numbers we have don't indicate whether the person walking while texting had the right of way in a marked intersection, whether they were walking on the sidewalk when a car jumped the curb, whether the driver was drunk or speeding. They are just "related to texting or talking." And as Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives told Pew, “If you’re looking at a phone when you’re walking around, that shouldn’t mean death. So we have to design forgiving streets.”

The vast majority of pedestrians dying on our streets are killed by speeding or inattentive or incompetent drivers, not because they are looking at cellphones. This whole issue is a distraction.

Pew Pew Pew on the whole thing.