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Published: Friday, 12/21/2012

Dangerous distractions

OMG! WRUD?

If you recognized that text-speak as “Oh my God! What are you doing?”, you probably spend a lot of time looking down while you fiddle with your cell phone. If you’re not stationary, you might also be putting yourself at risk.

Using mobile devices for text-messaging and other tasks while navigating busy intersections is one reason pedestrian deaths are rising while other traffic-related fatalities are at historic lows.

Nationwide, crashes involving pedestrians kill 4,000 people a year and injure 60,000 others. Safety advocates believe a growing number of those accidents involve pedestrians who were texting, checking their email, selecting music, surfing the Internet, or talking.

Last year, injuries that occurred while a mobile device was in use sent at least 1,100 people to hospitals or emergency rooms, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports.

Studying 1,100 pedestrians crossing high-risk intersections in Seattle last summer, researchers found that one in three was distracted by a mobile device. Texters were especially at risk: They were four times less likely to heed lights, walk inside the lines, or look before crossing.

Dangerous distractions are a growing problem. Ohio State University researcher Jack Nasar said injuries among pedestrians using cell phones rose steadily from 2005 to 2010.

In 2008, a texting Florida teen died after he was hit by a car. In 2009, a New York girl fell, texting, into a manhole.

Every day, pedestrians operating mobile devices collide with cars, bump into telephone poles, stumble off curbs, and fall down stairways. A video of a woman tumbling into a fountain in a Pennsylvania mall went viral on YouTube last year.

Most states, including Ohio, have banned texting while driving. Few states or communities have tried to enact laws aimed at pedestrians.

In Rexburg, Idaho, population 28,000, crossing the street while texting could cost you $50 for a first offense. Spain and Finland have embedded traffic lights in crosswalks so that pedestrians looking down can see them. Smart-phone applications now enable texters to see what’s in front of them.

Common sense and education should eliminate the need for additional laws. Communities could post “Put your cell phones down” signs at crosswalks or educate their residents in other ways. Parents should tell their children to put down cell phones while walking.

And whenever you see pedestrians fiddling with their phones while crossing an intersection, stand still and send them a text: “OMG! WRUD?”



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