Walking while distracted

untitled-1.jpgIn a duel between a 2-ton hunk of speeding metal and a 150-pound pillar of walking flesh, it seems fair to handicap the metal. After all, 30 pedestrians have died as a result of auto collisions in Las Vegas so far this year—twice as many as at the same time last year.

Yet, in these deadly encounters, pedestrians are also to blame—at least, officially. According to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, 23 percent of all auto-accident fatalities this year have been attributed to some sort of pedestrian error. Nevada has laws aimed at keeping drivers more aware of their surroundings (and thus avoid hitting people, among other things), the latest example being the hands-free cellphone law enacted in January. But with nearly a quarter of accidents caused by pedestrians, should the state consider similar legislation for them?

If you think that’s a ridiculous suggestion, consider this: In August, Consumer Reports reported on a study in which 34 percent of pedestrians observed using a cellphone stepped in front of a moving vehicle while doing so. In July JEMS, the national professional trade journal for emergency medical services, reported that injuries from distracted walking were on the rise. The authors blamed mobile devices, primarily, for the increase.

It’s tough to determine how many local pedestrian-caused traffic accidents happened while the pedestrians were using mobile devices, says Metro officer Jose Hernandez. By the time police arrive on the scene, incriminating devices are out of sight, and most people won’t admit to using them.

Maybe that’s why efforts to push legislation that would criminalize walking while distracted have gone nowhere. Or maybe it’s the common-sense factor: One can get run over while looking up at a tall building just as easily as while looking down at his text exchange.

On the other hand, tall buildings aren’t addictive, insistent, ever-present, and physically on the person of those driving and walking. The smartphone is still a new beast in our lives, and we haven’t yet learned how to tame it—for our own safety and the safety of others. Could it be that the law has a role to play in this process?

With time, people will figure out that defensive walking is as important as defensive driving, and a little extra prodding—in the form of a potential citation—could help. Until then, it’s up to us citizens to get back to basics and watch where we’re walking.

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