While stuck in traffic on an I-5 off-ramp in downtown Seattle, I watched a young adult stroll the sidewalk below. Head down, thumbs jabbing her smartphone, she never looked up.
Ahead was a scruffy man who may have been panhandling. He spotted the woman, stopped, and waited. She nearly bumped into him but veered aside at the last moment. He raised his hand and said something as she passed and resumed her course, eyes again on her phone.
In the 30 seconds or so that I watched, I recalled reading how “distracted walking” has become a rising threat to pedestrian safety. Studies show young adults and teenagers account for the most distracted-walking injuries, as reported in this NBCnews.com article.
I also recalled cautionary advice a policeman had shared years earlier in a work seminar. I looked up my notes when I arrived at the office.
“Criminals look for people who appear vulnerable or distracted,” he said. “Act confident and comfortable in your surroundings. Keep your head up and look at people as they pass. Scan the area constantly.”
The young woman on the sidewalk had done none of that. If the scruffy fellow had been a thug, she would have ambled right into trouble.
Drama and “what ifs” aside, pedestrians distracted by electronics are getting whacked by cars with disturbing frequency. Last December USA Today and the journal Injury Prevention reported on a UW-Seattle Children’s Hospital study that found one-fourth of Seattle pedestrians used electronic devices as they crossed intersections where people had been hit in the past.
So what, you say? Here’s the concern: Texters were nearly four times less likely to obey signals, look for traffic, and stay in the crosswalk than other pedestrians. Texters and phone-talkers also took longer to cross the street.
A researcher said, “Texting is pulling you out of where you are and putting your mind somewhere else … you’re on autopilot and that puts you at risk.”
So, how distracted are you?