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Posts Tagged ‘Honolulu’

distracted_walkingTo read the news lately, you’d think thousands of millenials are so distracted by their iPhones that they are walking off cliffs and stepping in front of trucks. Everywhere, there are PSA’s warning pedestrians to refrain from walking and texting. The Governors Highway Association blames Distracted Walking for the increasing pedestrian death toll. And now Honolulu’s city council has taken things a step further by passing a bill prohibiting pedestrians from texting while crossing the street.

But how serious of a problem is Distracted Walking? Are policymakers basing decisions on hard data, or anecdotes? The author of the Honolulu measure says he was motivated by stories told to him by some high schoolers.

The mass hysteria over Distracted Walking originated with a paper published by Jack Nasar (Ohio State University) and his student Derek Troyer. They argued that the increasing use of cell phones had caused a spike in pedestrian injuries. They were featured in major newspapers, such as the NY Times. Cell phones, it was reported, had caused over 1,000 serious injuries per year. And that was just the “tip of the iceberg” it was argued because many injuries don’t require hospitalization.

In absolute terms, those numbers may seem catastrophic. But in relative terms, they are insignificant. Just 3% of the pedestrian hospitalizations involved a cell phone. That is according to Nasar’s own numbers.

The 3% figure accounts for any kind of injury, not just ones involving motor vehicles. And the 3% figure covers use of a cell phone in any kind public space, not just sidewalks. The Honolulu law would only regulate use within an intersection, which makes up only a tiny fraction of that 3%. Even worse, Nasar reports most Distracted Walking accidents (70%) involved talking, not texting. The Honolulu measure would only cover texting (presumably, pedestrians could still talk with the same hands-free devices drivers use).

So the proposed law in Honolulu cannot possibly have any impact on the city’s pedestrian safety because there are so few cell-phone injuries to begin with. If anything, it could degrade pedestrian safety if it (ahem) distracts police from more important enforcement issues, like speeding and drunk driving

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