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Dead Man Walking: Why You Shouldn’t Text and Walk

Cellphones and headphones are becoming a deadly threat to the safety of New York City pedestrians. Between texting, live-streaming, listening to music, or scrolling through social media, pedestrians have hundreds of distractions at their fingertips. 

Fatal pedestrian accidents in the United States are higher than they’ve been in nearly three decades. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported 6,227 pedestrian deaths in 2018 alone, a four percent increase from 2017. 

While the majority of traffic accidents categories are down, pedestrian fatalities continue to be the only group on the rise. New Yorkers who use their cellphones when crossing the street increase their chances of getting injured in an accident. It’s critical for all residents to understand the risks of texting while walking and know the safety measures they should be using every time they cross a street.

Texting and Walking Causes Over 11,000 Injuries a Year

It may seem funny at first to see someone walking into a pole or wall when looking down at their screens. But some accidents are anything by humorous. 

The National Safety Council (N.S.C.) estimates over 11,000 people have sustained injuries from cell phone-related walking accidents between 2005 to 2015. Some of these accidents result in serious injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBI), spinal cord injuries, and permanent disabilities. 

New York City streets are fast-paced and unpredictable. It only takes a second for a driver to miss a pedestrian in the road, especially if both parties are distracted. 

Pedestrians who are concentrating on their phones are far less likely to notice the signs of a distracted or impaired drivers heading in their direction. They may also miss out on the opportunity to defend themselves by dodging or jumping back if a vehicle does not stop or slow down when approaching a crosswalk.

Headphones and Earbuds Are Causing More Injuries

Looking down at a screen is not the only risk electronic devices pose for pedestrians. Wireless headphones and earbuds are skyrocketing in popularity and causing New Yorkers to become more out of tune to their environment. 

Larger style headphones cover a person’s entire ear, muffling sounds alerting them to traffic dangers, including car horns, bicycle bells, people shouting, or emergency sirens. Some of these styles even offer noise cancelling options on top of listening to music, further muting helpful warning sounds.

Smaller earbuds can be even more dangerous in the long-run. According to an article published by Medium, this style of headphone sits directly next to the ear canal but offers zero noise isolation. In turn, pedestrians will often turn up the volume to better hear what they are listening to, possibly damaging their hearing in the process. 

In addition to music, pedestrians are using headphones and earbuds to talk on the phone. The hands-free option allows pedestrians to believe they are multitasking when this is not the case. According to the N.S.C., the human brain cannot do two things at the same time. You may believe you are talking on the phone while paying attention to your surroundings, but the brain is switching back and forth between the two at rapid speed. You can miss up to 50 percent of your environment when talking hands-free on your phone and walking, and headphones can reduce the additional warning noises to alert your attention to the road. 

Who Is Most At Risk For Texting and Walking Injuries

Anyone who owns a cell phone is at risk for texting and walking injuries, but some age groups are more prone than others. The N.S.C. reports people between the ages of 10 to 14 and 50 to 69 have at least 20 percent more pedestrian deaths annually compared to other age groups. 

Teens, in general, are also at a higher risk for pedestrian accidents involving cell phones. Modern-day youth communicate with friends and family primarily via texting or social media chats. The constant texting allows for more opportunities to be caught with their heads down and increases their risk of accidents on busy roads.

Texting and Walking In NY Could Soon Be Illegal 

Warning people to “put down their phones” seems to have little effect on their behavior. Instead, New York lawmakers have considered a statewide ban on cell phone habits, such as texting and walking, to reduce the increasing number of pedestrian traffic fatalities. 

Senate Bill S5746, currently in review by the Senate Transportation Committee, aims to fine pedestrians for dangerous use of portable electronic devices if caught on their screens while crossing a roadway. The term ‘portable electronic device’ would encompass any handheld device used to input, write, send, receive, or read data, including: 

  • mobile phones
  • personal digital assistants (PDA)
  • handheld devices with mobile data access
  • laptops
  • pagers
  • electronic games
  • portable computing devices

The proposed fine for these offenses would range from $25 to $250. Exceptions to the law include pedestrians who are trying to contact someone in an emergency, such as a doctor, hospital, fire department, or law enforcement officer. 

Where It Is Illegal To Text and Walk in the United States

Some cities across the United States have already passed laws banning pedestrians from using handheld devices while crossing the road: 

Montclair, California

Montclair passed a law in January last year that made it illegal for pedestrians to talk, text, or even have earbuds in when crossing the street. According to the Daily Bulletin, first-time offenders are given a warning. After that, anyone caught violating the law could see a fine from $100 to $500.

Honolulu, Hawaii

NPR reported Honolulu began writing pedestrians tickets for distracted walking back in 2017. Any pedestrian, regardless of age, caught using an electronic device while walking could be stuck with a fine ranging from $15 to $99. Honolulu lawmakers also reported considering higher finds similar to Montclair’s $500 cap in the future. 

Fort Lee, NJ

In Fort Lee, law enforcement began a texting-while-walking-ban back in 2012, at a time when most states were only passing distracted driving laws. Huff Post reports the law came about a year after New Jersey saw 74 crashes involving pedestrians- three of them deadly. Pedestrians looking down at electronic devices while crossing the road in Fort Lee are categorized as ’dangerous walkers’, acquiring a fine of $85. 

How To Walk Safely in NYC

Distractions leading to pedestrian accidents are entirely preventable. New Yorkers can significantly reduce their risk of injuries by eliminating unnecessary handheld distractions that take their eyes (or ears) away from the road.

The N.S.C.’s ‘Head Up, Phone Down’ safety campaign encourages everyone to walk safely by taking these steps to reduce cell phone distractions:

  • Keep your phone out of your hand. Before crossing the road, place the phone in your purse or pocket to reduce the temptation to use it. 
  • Take out your earbuds when crossing the road if listening to music. 
  • Try not to wear earbuds when running near congested roads. If you must, keep the volume low enough to hear cars and people around you. 
  • Never wear noise-canceling headphones while walking in the city. There is no need to eliminate all background noise in this environment where emergency signals can alert a pedestrian of imminent danger.
  • Wait to make phone calls or send texts until you are able to stand clear of others or sit. Never answer a call in the middle of a crosswalk- it can wait.
  • Never play virtual video games on NYC sidewalks or streets that require you to walk around looking at your phone. 

Paying attention to what is going on around you is the most effective way to prevent cell phone-related walking injuries. Walking can be a relaxing commute or pastime. But tuning out the rest of the world, particularly in large cities like New York, is extremely dangerous. Look around, stay alert, and look up! 

NYC Pedestrian Accident Lawyers

All New Yorkers have the right to walk safely on city streets. Injuries sustained from pedestrian accidents can be devastating, and often accompanied by expensive medical bills and years of painful recovery. 

If you or a loved one has sustained a pedestrian injury after a traffic accident, our knowledgeable team of accident attorneys are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation to review your case and your rights. 

Sources

“Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data.” Governors Highway Safety Association.(Retrieved July 23, 2018)https://www.ghsa.org/resources/Pedestrians19

“Take Steps to Avoid Injury or Death While Walking.” National Safety Council.(Retrieved July 23, 2018) https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/distracted-walking

“Senate Bill S5746.” The New York State Senate. (Retrieved July 23, 2018) https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s5746

Allen, David. “Can you hear cars now? Montclair bans use of phones, earbuds in crosswalks.” Daily Bulletin.(Retrieved July 23, 2018) https://www.dailybulletin.com/2018/02/17/can-you-hear-cars-now-montclair-bans-use-of-phones-earbuds-in-crosswalks/

Chappell, Bill. “Honolulu’s ‘Distracted Walking’ Law Takes Effect, Targeting Phone Users.” NPR. (Retrieved July 23, 2018) Can you hear cars now? Montclair bans use of phones, earbuds in crosswalks

Gates, Sara. “Texting While Walking Ban: Fort Lee Imposes $85 Fines On Dangerous Texters CORRECTION.” Huff Post.(Retrieved July 23, 2018) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/texting-while-walking-ban_n_1514308

Lashbrook, Angela. “Why AirPods-and Earbuds Like Them- Are Especially Bad for Your Hearing.” Medium. (Retrieved September 25, 2019). https://onezero.medium.com/why-airpods-and-earbuds-like-them-are-especially-bad-for-your-hearing-20f32b6e02e2

“The Great Multitasking Lie.” National Safety Council. (Retrieved September 25, 2019). https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/tools-resources/infographics/great-multitasking-lie