Walking is easy. It is one of the first major milestones your child achieves—sometimes even before they can speak—and they continue the practice for the rest of their lives. Yet walking is becoming increasingly dangerous: pedestrians are among the few road users who have actually experienced increases in fatalities in recent years. Early reports for 2015 show yet another surge, with some estimates of the increase in 2014 as high as 10 percent.
There are of course many reasons for this. The economy improved and the price of gas plunged, resulting in an increase in the amount of driving, while shorter winters and warmer weather have encouraged folks to walk more. Yet there is one culprit that many experts agree seems to stand above the rest: distracted walking. While distracted driving may get all the attention, distracted walking is catching up.
One survey found that almost 20 percent of pedestrians are distracted by their smartphones at any given time. Another study found that nearly one-third are distracted at high-risk intersections. The U.S. Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has drawn direct links between distracted walking and increased pedestrian deaths.
This issue is leading to innovation in some cities as they continue to seek ways to protect their citizens. The German city of Augsburg, for example, has embedded traffic lights in the crosswalk pavement to help prevent distracted walkers looking down at their smartphones from crossing the street into oncoming traffic. In a perhaps more aggressive move, a New Jersey lawmaker has introduced a bill to fine distracted walking (with penalties similar to those for jaywalking).
We’re watching this space closely, as data from our own app shows that the use of phones, apps, texts and other forms of distracted/risky driving actually increases as drivers approach an intersection. The false sense of security of driving at slower speeds leads people to reach for their phones and take their eyes off the road. Combine this with a pedestrian who is also distracted and the results can be catastrophic.
The more innovations that make busy intersections safer the better. We hope ideas like the one implemented in Augsburg succeed, and if so, that they share their data and insights with the rest of us so that we can all keep finding ways to increase the safety of all who share the road.
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