It’s common to see people walking along looking at their phones. Search on YouTube and you’ll find many funny videos of people walking into things like lamp posts or falling over or off things. It’s been proven in numerous studies that even talking on a cellphone causes inattention blindness. The problem is that people do it near roads and end up getting hit by drivers.
Crossing the road requires mental calculations. A person needs to judge the speed and distance of approaching cars, motorbikes, cyclists and lorries – all vehicles of different sizes (and size can mask speed). They need to know whether they can get across the road in time.
Being distracted by texting, using apps, talking on the phone or listening to music removes some of a person’s ability to accurately assess whether they can make it. It increases their reaction time, too. It’s the main reason why we don’t allow people to use a hand-held phone while driving.
But it’s not only phones and music players that cause a distraction; eating, smoking, reading a book, avoiding bad weather, etc.
Who is most at risk?
Teenagers and young adults are most affected as they have grown up using smartphones in this way. People jogging while listening to music have increased risk but more because of their inability to hear traffic, and because they, themselves, are moving faster towards areas of danger.
People jogging while listening to music or podcasts have increased risk but more because of their inability to hear traffic, and because they, themselves, are moving faster towards areas of danger.
People in emotional, heated conversations become especially distracted.
How can drivers avoid distracted pedestrians?
It’s difficult to see if a person is listening on small ‘earbud’ type earphones from a distance, whereas it’s easier to see if they are holding a phone up to their ear, or they are walking along looking at their phone.
If a distracted pedestrian crosses at a legal pelican crossing or other crossing, drivers should be more aware – they can see the person approaching. The pedestrian might not stop and wait to ensure vehicles have stopped, the onus is on the driver to actually stop. If it’s a crossing with signals, 20% of crossings are made on the red light. In fact, it’s so common that a French campaign aimed to bring awareness to it.
The issue is when a pedestrian tries to cross more than 20 metres from a crossing, which is when accident risk increases by up to 800%.
How to spot distracted pedestrians
- You can look out for the following telltale signs of a distracted walker:
- Walking more slowly
- Changing direction more frequently
- Looking around them less
- Taking longer to react
- Stepping onto the road without looking left and right
- Hesitating unduly before crossing
- Crossing unsafely, causing other vehicles to brake
- Missing opportunities to cross, then dashing out when it’s unsafe
Adjusting your driving
Distracted pedestrians are the biggest problem in areas where there are more adolescents and where there are numerous interesting places to visit on either side of the road (i.e. streets with shops and entertainment options). Anywhere up to 40% of people could be distracted by their phone while walking and, while most of them will meander down the pavement, it’s your job to spot the ones that could cause you a problem.
Keep your speed down – the slower you’re going, the more time you have to react and, if you do hit a pedestrian that walks out in front of you, the less likely it is to seriously injure them.
Purchase a vehicle with autonomous emergency braking when you replace your vehicle. This system will brake automatically for you and eliminates that 1.5-second reaction time that humans have before they brake.
Watch out for pedestrians on the pavement when you make a left-hand turn into a side road.
Watch out for joggers moving more quickly than other pedestrians as they’ll also be focusing on weaving their way through their own slower foot traffic.
If you see someone tracking towards the edge of the pavement without looking you can give a quick toot of your horn to warn them.
In bad weather, watch for people without umbrellas making a dash across the road, and watch for people with umbrellas that don’t have such good visibility of traffic.