On Christmas Day, an Indiana man tragically died while vacationing in California and a family lost a husband and father. News reports are that his death was caused by distraction — witnesses saw the Sheridan, Indiana man using his phone camera to take photos of the sunset at the edge of a high bluff. He lost his footing and fell over 60 feet; rescuers and early responders were not able to save him in time.
Here in our part of the country, we hear lots of warnings about distracted driving. Talking on your phone while driving? It’s dangerous. Texting while driving? Ditto.
There are even laws in place, passed by the state lawmakers in Indiana and Illinois, to combat distracted driving accidents. Read more about them in our post here.
However, phone distractions are causing accidents and hurting people outside of drivers in motor vehicles. Just like the sad Indiana tourist tragedy over the holidays last month, people are getting hurt and killed in accidents caused by distractions from a device meant to make their lives easier.
Pedestrian Accidents Due to Distractions From Phones: Deadwalkers and Petextrians
The number of folk being injured or killed in accidents while walking is skyrocketing. They are being called “deadwalkers” or “petextrians” and they are involved in a dangerous activity. They are not paying attention to where they are walking because they are being distracted by their phones.
Two years ago, researchers at Ohio State University were warning of the rising danger of people getting hurt in accidents while walking because of being distracted by their phone. Back in 2013, Professor Jack Nasar, co-author of the study, warned:
“If current trends continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of injuries to pedestrians caused by cell phones doubles again between 2010 and 2015…. The role of cell phones in distracted driving injuries and deaths gets a lot of attention and rightly so, but we need to also consider the danger cell phone use poses to pedestrians.”
For several years, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has been studying distraction accidents. Specifically, accidents and deaths caused by distracted walking.
Their studies include not only people who are walking while talking on their phones, but walkers who are using their smartphones to text, listen to music, surf the web, and more. From AAOS’s Dr. Alan Hilibrand:
“Today, more and more people are falling down stairs, tripping over curbs and other streetscapes and, in many instances, stepping into traffic, causing cuts, bruises, sprains, and fractures. In fact, the number of injuries to pedestrians using their phones has more than doubled since 2004, and surveys have shown that 60% of pedestrians are distracted by other activities while walking.”
Distracted Walking Is a Real and Growing Danger
In 2015, the National Safety Council (NSC) announced that it was going to include “cell phone distracted walking” as a new category in its yearly accident research report, InjuryFacts (you can purchase the full publication, InjuryFacts2015 here).
From the NSC’s InjuryFacts2015, we know the following:
- In 2013, 6,100 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles;
- In 2013, 160,000 pedestrian injuries required medical attention;
- 23% of deaths and injuries resulted from pedestrians darting into the street, with the majority of those younger than age 15;
- The number of pedestrian deaths has decreased significantly since the 1970s; during that decade, deaths were between 8,400 and 10,300; and
- During the decade from 2002 to 2013, death rates didn’t change much; they hovered around 6,000, with a low of 5,300 in 2009.
And, from InjuryFacts2015, we know that cell phone distracted walking accidents caused over 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011 (note how this is 4 years ago), where:
- 52% of cell phone distracted walking injuries happened at home;
- 68% of those injured were women;
- 54% of the accident victims were under 40 years old; and
- Nearly 80% of the injuries were due to a fall.
From 2005 to 2010, the number of cell phone distracted walking accidents that ended up with people needing emergency room medical care doubled. And, as one doctor pointed out, those numbers may be lower than the real number of distracted walking accidents because people are embarrassed to admit that they were distracted and on their phone when they were walking and got hurt.
Distracted Walking and Motor Vehicle Accidents
These deadwalker and petextrian accidents don’t all involve people getting hit by cars, SUVs, trucks, or other vehicles on the road. But the most serious cell phone distracted walking accidents do involve someone in a motor vehicle accident.
When a pedestrian accident happens, the human being is no match for that metal vehicle, no matter how small the car may be or how slow it may be going. Someone distracted by their phone on or near a street or roadway is endangering themselves as well as other pedestrians and the drivers passing by in a potentially serious and life-altering auto accident.