Distractions Kill Pedestrians

Lately we have been shown articles about banning cars — how automobiles are to blame for pedestrian deaths, particulate matter, Donald Trump’s election campaign and all manner of other ills.

The latest story in the narrative that aims to remove Americans’ primary mode of transportation is an incredibly polarizing piece on Gizmodo. It claims that more pedestrians than ever are being hurt on streets and attempts to rest the blame on the vehicles. It mentions such points as the “...invention of jaywalking in the 1900s” and cites the NHTSA’s 2015 estimates as a very trustworthy data source. (Actual 2015 metrics are still not available at time of publication)


The article dismisses the idea of having an application that could help keep distracted smartphoners out of danger and instead requests that the responsibility should be on the shoulders of the automakers. This argument is not unlike the whole “discipline firearms manufacturers for shootings, terrorist attacks, et alia” and is still a blame shift in the wrong direction.

The author states that “...it’s very difficult to prove... a distraction” but that is where the requested blame shift should stop. Whether it’s the distracted pedestrian or the distracted driver, the crux is distraction.

Automobiles are inanimate objects. At this juncture they have no life of their own; no ability to make decisions (Teslas, some Volvos excluded) and rely solely on human input. A car cannot (currently) kill. A car cannot (currently) be held responsible for a pedestrian death. A manufacturer cannot be held responsible for a death unless a manufacturing defect is a direct cause, for example Takata’s airbag recalls and the GM ignition fiasco.

Smartphone usage grew greatly in 2015, as noted by mobile data traffic. According to Cisco, traffic growth exceeded 50% in the United States.

Mobile data traffic growth in 2015

The whitepaper states that traffic and usage has grown exponentially over the past 6 years and is projected to hit in excess of 30 exabytes in the next five years. Of course that’s just data statistics; offline distractions such as mobile gaming and eBooks aren’t counted.


In a recent Pedestrian Safety Survey (2013), 60% of pedestrians admitted to partaking in distracting activities while crossing the road, despite 70% of those surveyed considering that to be a bad idea. David Melton, a driving safety expert, states “So much attention has been paid... to distracted driving that we have ignored the fact that distracted walking and crossing can be just as risky.” Phones, tablets, eReaders and their ilk can be blamed in many pedestrian injuries - and they rightfully are.

As drivers shouldn’t be looking at their distracting devices when operating a vehicle, pedestrians shouldn’t be distracted when crossing a roadway. Drivers take control of a multi-ton apparatus capable of causing massive damage; attention should be paid at all times to operating said automobile. In the same vein, pedestrians crossing roads put themselves in the line of danger and should take the same provisions to be as alert as possible. An alert pedestrian can alter course and speed magnitudes faster than an alert vehicle operator.

A sign posted by the “Metropolitan Etiquette Authority” around New York City

In a perfect world, rules would be followed. Vehicle operators would pay attention at all times; walkers would pay attention when crossing or otherwise entering roadways, cyclists would [insert flamebait here]. However with the prevalence of smartphones, Flappy Birds, emails and Buzzfeeds (ugh), that’s just not going to happen. What is the correct answer? It’s not “BAN CARS”. It’s not “BAN SMARTPHONES”. It’s “EDUCATE THE MASSES.” Only you can ensure you’re alert enough to avoid danger, dismemberment or death from a distracted anything/anyone. If you’re a vehicle operator, don’t touch your damned phone. Maybe turn down the radio a bit. If you’re a walker, at least stop touching your damned phone when potentially crossing paths with a vehicle. Maybe take an earbud out too.

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