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Could Legislation Curb Incidence of Accidents Among Distracted Pedestrians?


It is well known in California and throughout the U.S. that the increased use of smartphones and other digital technology is a common cause of car accidents. What doesn’t get as much attention, however, is distracted walking injuries, which present their own significant dangers.
“An awareness of one’s surroundings is crucial to safety regardless of whether walking, cycling, or driving,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Unfortunately, the dangers of distracted walking go well beyond just an embarrassing moment if you bump into something or someone. According to a CBS News article, reports of emergency room visits caused by distracted walking injuries have more than quadrupled in recent years. Unfortunately, even with this dramatic increase, the number of injuries may be underreported since the use of a mobile device may not always be noted or recorded in injury or death causes.

Accidents near train platforms can be especially dangerous because when someone falls onto the tracks, it can take time to get out. CBS News, for example, told of one young man in Philadelphia who was walking near the edge of the train platform and who fell over the side, landing headfirst and being too disoriented to even try to climb out for a few moments after he fell.
Taking Legal Action
Today, most states, including California, have imposed restrictions on talking or texting while driving. In California, for example, adult drivers are banned from talking on cell phones without hands-free devices, while minors, school bus drivers and transit bus operators are not permitted to use wireless phones at all. All drivers are also prohibited from writing, sending or reading texts, although exceptions are carved out for adults using hands-free and voice controlled texting. According to the Los Angeles Times, texting while driving can result in a fine of up to $159 for a first offense and the fines will grow with subsequent offenses.
These distracted driving laws have been able to reduce the number of people killed and injured in accidents. In fact, according to Hands Free Info, bans on the use of handheld cell phones when driving have resulted in 700 fewer deaths and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions, and the California Highway Patrol showed an immediate drop of 40-50 percent of cell-phone related accidents.
Despite the success of distracted driving laws at reducing the number of crashes, there are not yet widespread laws throughout the U.S. that prohibit distracted walking. There are signs that things are beginning to change though. For example, CBS News reports that some towns are beginning to take action, including Fort Lee, New Jersey, which has imposed a ban on texting while jaywalking.
In California, however, Senator Joe Simitian told KABC-TV Los Angeles that there were no plans to ban texting while walking because, “At some point we just have to ask folks to be responsible for their own common sense and well being.” Simitian wrote the California law banning texting while driving and is attempting to have the law extended to also forbid texting while riding a bicycle. Texting while walking, however, is not being targeted by Simitian because he indicates that those who are distracted when driving or cycling could hurt others while those who text and walk generally put only themselves at risk.
While legislation prohibiting distracted walking does not seem likely in California in the near future, laws passed in other states may help authorities gauge the effectiveness of legal restrictions on the behavior. If successful at preventing accidents, such laws may become more widespread throughout the country.
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