You’ve heard about the dangers of distracted driving – but what about distracted walking? You might not be putting others’ lives at risk when you walk while distracted, but you could be putting yourself in significant danger. According to the National Safety Council, distracted walking incidents are increasing. A combination of more walkable cities and increased cell phone use is driving up the numbers of pedestrian accidents. Now, one Southern California city is doing something about distracted walking.
Walking while distracted can remove a pedestrian’s eyes from the walkway and mind from the task at hand. Walking while texting, talking on the phone, scrolling through social media, listening to music, watching videos, chatting with a fellow pedestrian, eating and drinking, even thinking too much about something on your mind can all put you at risk of getting into a traffic collision. It is critical to dedicate your full attention to the task of walking for your own personal safety.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is one of many organizations that has been tracking the statistics for distracted pedestrian injuries and deaths for the past few years. According to the AAOS, the number of pedestrian injuries due to cell phone use while walking has more than doubled since 2004. At least 60% of pedestrians today walk while distracted by other activities. Although 74% of people say others often walk distracted and 78% believe it’s a serious issue, just 29% admit to doing so themselves. According to an AAOS survey, respondents say the greatest distraction is talking on the phone (90%).
The small community of Montclair (about 30 miles from Los Angeles) is the first in California to officially outlaw distracted walking. Ordinance No. 17-971 adds a chapter to the municipal code: Pedestrian Use of Mobile Electronic Devices. The ordinance bans pedestrians from crossing streets or highways while engaged in practices that could distract them from the task at hand. This includes taking phone calls, looking at mobile electronic devices, and covering or obstructing both ears with personal audio equipment, according to the law.
The new ordinance in the city of Montclair, California, offers a few alarming distracted walking statistics from a number of universities and safety studies. One of the studies cited from the University of Washington states that one in three pedestrians uses mobile electronic devices while crossing busy streets. The ordinance also points out national statistics that show falling numbers of overall traffic fatalities yet increasing pedestrian deaths since 2010. States around the country have reported increases from 11% to 15% and more.
The language of the new law states that no pedestrian may cross an intersection while distracted by electronic devices unless that person can prove that he or she was making a 911 emergency communication. Emergency responders are exempt from the law while performing official duties in Montclair. Violating the city’s new law is punishable with a $100 fine for a first violation and $200 for a second offense within one year. Subsequent violations in the same year can lead to fines of up to $500 each. The ordinance went into effect in 2017.
Montclair is the first of what may be many cities that enact ordinances banning distracted walking. Paying attention while you walk is important regardless of whether your home city is handing out fines for texting and walking. Putting your cell phone away and watching where you walk can help you prevent a serious or fatal accident. Walking while distracted, on the other hand, can lead to walking into an intersection when it’s not safe to do so. Keep up with local laws to watch for any changes to the municipal code in following Montclair’s lead.