Trucks at Work

Pointing a finger at distracted pedestrians

For anyone that’s ever driven in a crowded downtown locale – and truckers of all stripes no doubt maintain a trove of such tales – one of the biggest things to worry about is the lack of attention pedestrians display when crossing the street.

More time than I can count, I’ve had to stop short or wait at a green light because someone engrossed in their smart phone or with musical ear buds cranked at full volume blindly walks into the roadway under the assumption that the white painted lines on the asphalt will protect them from harm.

If that doesn’t define “crazy,” then I don’t know what does.

Yet now we’ve got more than just anecdotal evidence about the breadth of the “distracted pedestrians” problem in this country.

Of the more than 1,000 adults surveyed by Liberty Mutual Insurance for the firm’s new Pedestrian Safety Survey, some 60% of pedestrians admit to walking while texting, emailing, talking on the phone, or listening to music despite 70% of those very same folks considering those behaviors to be dangerous. 

Such distractions may have been a contributing factor to the 4,280 pedestrian deaths in traffic crashes in 2010, a 4% increase from the previous year, as reported in the latest data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA).

Indeed, a further 55% of respondents to Liberty Mutual’s survey consider texting or emailing while crossing a street to be the most dangerous activity when walking – more so than those who feel running across a street to beat oncoming traffic (40%) or jaywalking (24%) to be the most dangerous, said David Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual and managing director of global safety for the firm.

"So much attention has been paid – and rightly so – to the dangers of distracted driving that we have ignored the fact that distracted walking and crossing can be just as risky,” he explained. “Few consider distracted crossing of streets and roads to be a major safety risk in this country. Even though from an early age, we all learn how to safely cross the street – look both ways, wait for the walk sign – as adults many of us seem to forget those simple rules."

[FYI: Ketchum Global Research & Analytics designed and analyzed Liberty Mutual’s national phone survey of 1,004 adults aged 18 to 65, with Braun Research fielding it between April 1 and April 10 this year. Also note that Liberty Mutual’s pedestrian he survey has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points.]

Such pedestrian safety concerns are valid, Melton stressed, as a 2011 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms after being injured while walking and using a cell phone or some other electronic device.

Yet the firm’s poll also found that while pedestrians, like drivers, recognize the dangers of their actions they do not modify them for safety. For example, three in five drivers say talking on the cell phone while driving is dangerous for pedestrians, yet 70% still admit to doing so.

Likewise, drivers realize that talking on the phone, texting and listening to loud music is dangerous for pedestrians yet a significant percentage of respondents continue to engage in behavior they recognize as risky, Melton noted.

“The reality is that neither drivers nor pedestrians seem to actually realize the dangers of their distracted behaviors,” he added. “The fact that drivers and pedestrians continue to engage in dangerous habits, despite claiming to recognize the risk, suggests that the majority of Americans are taking a cavalier, 'it won't happen to me' attitude.”

Somehow, though, that just doesn’t surprise me.

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