It’s official, our smartphones are killing us. No, it’s not because of radiation. It’s because we cannot take our eyes off that little screen.
For 40 years, researchers have kept track of how many pedestrians are killed by cars. About 2,600 pedestrians died in such accidents in the first six months of 2016. That is a spike of 11 percent over the year before. That is also the biggest increase year over year since the 1970s.
So why are so many more people dying while walking?
The Governors Highway Safety Association, which keeps track of such things, gets its information from all 50 state highway safety offices and the District of Columbia. It says the reasons are varied, potentially including the fact that more people are using their legs to get around these days.
But I’d like to focus on what seems to be the most logical reason more drivers are hitting and killing pedestrians: we are distracted by our phones. Now I do not condone laws that specifically cite texting while driving as a more egregious offense than any other form of distracted driving. But we must take note that staring down at our screens not only gives us text neck, but can be rude at the least, and flat-out deadly at the worst.
A University of Washington study found that when pedestrians cross the road, they are four times less likely to look for traffic if they are texting. One of the study’s authors, pediatrician Beth Ebel, told the Seattle Times that parents must start early to talk to their kids about the dangers of distraction, both while walking and while driving.
Many states are taking issue with those who do things while texting that could prove risky, but parents should be at the forefront of this discussion. Moms and dads must speak early and often with their children about an array of risks that come with a cellphone. We focus on bullying, pornography and addiction, but make sure to add distraction to the list of warnings during your conversations.
Being mesmerized by your phone while doing almost anything can be dangerous. I live in a rural area, and see kids around here texting while riding their horses down the road. Texting, whether it's done while riding a bullet bike or a horse, can be very dangerous if a truck hits you going 40 miles per hour.
Municipalities are handling texting while walking very differently. A small Dutch town, Bodegraven, is adapting to the trend. In a pilot program, it has installed traffic signals that project onto the sidewalk, so even if a pedestrian is engrossed in their phone, they will see a bold red or green line on the ground. Then, although the person is looking down, they will know whether it is OK to cross.
Rexburg, Idaho, is taking a stricter approach. The city has banned any use of a cellphone while in a crosswalk. And any violation will cost you big time. On the first offense, police will hand out a $101.50 fine, and a second offense carries a $201.50 fine. Each offense after that adds another $51.50.
The Governors Highway Safety Association fears 2016 could be the first year in a long time when we see more than 6,000 pedestrian deaths. What a horrific statistic. Let’s not allow that to happen.
Parents, we need to teach our kids to look up more often, and not only so that they don’t get smashed by passing cars. At the very least, staring down at that little screen without noticing what is going on around you can be rude during social situations. But keep your eyes focused on your Flow Free mobile game instead of the free-flowing traffic around you, and it could truly be deadly.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson