Northwest pedestrians admit to using their phones but insist they aren't distracted

PEMCO Poll finds that while most people witness distracted walking, few admit to it themselves



​Travel down a typical Northwest street and you're likely to see a familiar scenario: pedestrians paying close attention to their phones, potentially unaware of their surroundings. Although many people acknowledge that they use their phones while traveling on foot, the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance finds that most pedestrians are convinced they aren't distracted by their devices and believe they're fully aware of what's going on around them. Of course, others disagree.

According to the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, 42 percent of those surveyed say they talk, text or read messages on their phone while walking down the sidewalk or crossing the street. But despite their admitted fixation on their phones, almost two-thirds residents in Washington and Oregon (64 percent) insist they're rarely or even never distracted while on foot.

But the vast majority aren't buying it. The PEMCO poll found 89 percent of respondents say they witness pedestrians who aren't paying attention, at least sometimes.

Consider this common scene: a pedestrian has the right-of-way at an intersection and a vehicle is waiting for them to make a move. But instead of crossing the street, the pedestrian seems more engrossed with their phone than the traffic they're holding up. According to PEMCO's poll, just 4 percent say they ever stand at an intersection without crossing while 10 times as many respondents (46 percent) say they've seen this exact scenario play out.

"With devices getting bigger – both in actual size and how they're increasingly integrated into everything we do – it's natural to spend time on our phones while we're walking down the street," said PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. "But even though we might feel like we're paying attention while we're out and about, these results suggest we may be more distracted than we think – even if we don't want to admit it."

Regardless of pedestrians' intentions, respondents find distracted walkers frustrating. Most people (85 percent) say they're at least a little bothered, while 28 percent say seeing distracted pedestrians bothers them a lot.

Residents here are right to be concerned. According to the first annual Vision Zero report released by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, 45 people were killed on Portland city streets in 2017, making it one of the deadliest years in more than a decade.

And a recent study by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) found that across the state, 109 people walking were killed by traffic in 2017 – an increase from 105 fatalities in 2016.

"With so much focus on distracted driving, we can forget that pedestrians are at risk, too, especially if they aren't paying full attention to their surroundings," Wing said. "But we can all help make our streets safe and free of distractions by keeping our eyes on what's happening around us."

For a complete summary of PEMCO's poll results, visit, where you'll find the responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in June 2018.​