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Published On: Tue, Nov 8th, 2016

A New Approach to Pedestrian Safety in the Age of Smartphones

A German city is making a major infrastructure change to accommodate pedestrians who are more likely to be staring at cellphones than looking ahead as they walk city streets.

The City of Augsburg is embedding new traffic lights in city sidewalks so pedestrians looking down at cellphone screens will see the signals and, it is hoped, not step out into traffic.

A CNN report says Augsburg recently installed traffic lights that face up at pedestrians from the sidewalk at two crowded train stations after a manager saw something similar in Cologne.

A Washington Post article about Augsburg’s attempt to save pedestrians from themselves refers to a survey of six European capitals, including Berlin, which found that almost 17 percent of pedestrians used their smartphones while dealing with vehicular traffic.

The company that conducted the survey said that, while crossing the street:

  • Almost 8 percent of pedestrians were seen texting.
  • 2.6 percent of pedestrians made calls.
  • 1.4 percent texted and made calls at the same time.
photo David Peña via pixabay

photo David Peña via pixabay

Officials in Augsburg decided to install traffic lights in sidewalks came after a 15-year-old girl was killed by a tram, according to The Post. Police reports said she was distracted by her smartphone as she crossed the tracks.

In the United States, a survey by the University of Washington found that 1 in 3 Americans is busy texting or engaged in some other distracting behavior on a smartphone at dangerous road crossings, The Post said.

In a blog post about Augsburg’s initiative, a Boston personal injury law firm that handles car and pedestrian accidents refers to statistics in an article in Healthline that indicate texting while walking causes more accidents than texting while driving. Healthline cites research at The Ohio State University that says an estimated 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using their cellphones while walking. That number was 256 in 2005.

But Jack Nasar, co-author of the OSU study and professor of city and regional planning at the university, said the number of injuries suffered by distracted pedestrians is actually much higher.

Nasar said he believes emergency room numbers underestimate actual injuries because not every person who is injured goes to an emergency room. Uninsured people might not go at all. Other people might take care of themselves or go to an urgent care center. In addition, not every injured pedestrian treated in an emergency room reports using a cell phone.

The National Safety Council says its annual Injury Facts survey included statistics on “cell phone distracted walking” for the first time in 2015. It found more than 11,100 injuries of all kinds between 2000 and 2011 caused by accidents that occurred while the injured person was walking and attending to a cell phone.

In 2013, 6,100 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles and about 160,000 pedestrian injuries required medical attention, the NSC says. Some 23 percent of deaths and injuries resulted from pedestrians darting into the street, with the majority of those who did so younger than age 15.

Pedestrians are obliged to obey the law as it pertains to crossing the street. A court considering an injury claim would hold a distracted pedestrian’s failure to observe the traffic’s right of way against the pedestrian if the case went to court. Putting traffic signals in the sidewalk where pedestrians are more likely to see them might help.

In the meantime, if all drivers and pedestrians would put away their phones when operating a motor vehicle or walking, it would reduce the chances of being involved in an accident.

Author: Jacob Maslow

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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