Smartphone behaviour linked to increased road death rates

You probably already knew, but you’re dying to know anyway …

woman texting while walking across the road against a red light

I’ve nearly cleaned up about five people on different occasions walking across the road, steadfastly glued to their phone. This, as I’m driving through the city.

I’ve had two people simply walk across the road in front of me while driving along a busy four-lane thoroughfare in my hometown.

I’ve seen one person nearly taken out by a train because he had his headphones in and eyes fixed to his phone screen.

Then there are the multiple times while catching pubic transport that I’ve tripped over or banged into the back of a person who’s stopped in front of me to text or check that all important Facebook feed update. Don’t get me started about those who stop to stare at their screens one step off the escalator or out the train door.

I’m almost of the mind to petition for a no-texting-while-walking bylaw in Melbourne, especially in the university district and on or near public transport platforms. The face-stuck-to-phone thing is getting ridiculous.

And I have some scientific evidence to back up my plea. Smartphone texting has been linked to compromised pedestrian safety in a new study published in the journal, Injury Prevention.

According to research conducted by Canadian researchers, there are higher rates of ‘near misses’ and failure to look left and right before crossing a road while texting than either listening to music or talking on the phone.

Worldwide, some 270,000 pedestrians die each year. That’s around one fifth of all road traffic deaths. Many of those deaths, it seems, could be avoided if certain distractions were eliminated.

‘Pedestrian distraction’ has become a recognised safety issue. So, researchers analysed 33 studies on pedestrian behaviour to find links between distracted pedestrians and crashes.

They examined the potential impact on road safety of hand-held/hands-free device activities, including talking, texting or browsing, and listening to music on the phone.

They focused on the time taken to start walking or begin crossing the road; missed opportunities to cross safely; time taken to cross the road; looking left and right before or during crossing, and collisions and close calls with other pedestrians and vehicles.

The researchers found that listening to music did not increase the risk of harm or death to pedestrians.

There was an increase in the time taken to start crossing the road, as well as more missed opportunities to cross the road safely while pedestrians talked on the phone.

Texting, though, was found to be the most harmful behaviour, associated with lower rates of looking left and right immediately before and/or while crossing the road, and with increased rates of collisions and close calls with other pedestrians or vehicles.

Texting also increased the time taken to cross a road and missed opportunities to cross safely.

Both mobile phone conversation and text messaging increased rates of hits and close calls.

The percentage of distracted pedestrians ranged from 12 per cent to 45 per cent over the eight studies, and behaviours were also influenced by gender, time of day, whether crossing solo or as a group, and walking speed.

The researchers pointed out: “Given the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, apps, digital video and streaming music, which has infiltrated most aspects of daily life, distracted walking and street cross will be a road safety issue for the foreseeable future.”

The researchers admitted to limitations to the study, such as interpretation and generalisation of the results, but say that “establishing the relationship between distracted walking behaviour and crash risk is an essential research need”, highlighting the need for improved street signage and awareness campaigns.

Do you think texting and other forms of pedestrian distraction are harmful to people’s health? Should there be improved awareness of, or even penalties for, such behaviour?

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COMMENTS

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Chris B T
7th Feb 2020
10:08am
Does the study Include The Driver Fixated On The Phone as well, no one concentrating on or around the Roads.
I live in a Regional Area to which Locals do this All the Time, its quiet.
Now Holiday Time, with Holiday Brain People who don't give a Dam about Road Rules Anyway (Not Likely to Get Caught) so Add this to the Mix as well as Backpackers (Wrong side of ride Tribe).
A very Dangerous Activity.
Snowflake
7th Feb 2020
10:54am
Personally, I think it is a little pathetic they way way people are fixated to their phones. Yes, pathetic is the right word.
arbee
7th Feb 2020
11:00am
Heavy users of mobile phones are also much more susceptible to brain tumors as well, Eminent brain surgeon, Charlie Teo has often mentioned this fact, and he is closer to the grey matter than most of us.
Paddles
7th Feb 2020
11:37am
There is a certain irony in that inasmuch as the legal situation that his daughter finds herself in.
arbee
7th Feb 2020
12:17pm
What she did may not have been right, even if it did get rid of the bikie who instigated the Milperra massacre, but that is hardly her fathers responsibility. After Charlie had been speaking out for years about the dangers of mobile phone use, it was only recently that some telco's acknowledged that there may be some danger with prolonged use. As a side issue, Charlie is a remarkable surgeon who takes on surgery for brain tumors that other neurosurgeons wont touch. I have a niece who when it was discovered that she had a large brain tumor was told about 13 years ago to go home and try to enjoy the few months of her life she had left to live. She then went to Sydney to see Charlie, who told her he could operate, but it would have its risks in doing so. She survived the surgery well and is now leading a reasonable independent lifestyle now, with fatigue being the only major problem. This is not a one of either, as Charlie has saved countless other lives when other surgeons are not capable of operating due to the proximity of the tumor to the brain stem, but he takes it on anyway.
Crowcrag
7th Feb 2020
11:23am
In an increasingly overpopulated world, this may be seen as an excellent way of culling non essential mediocrities.
PlanB
7th Feb 2020
12:31pm
Why the hell people can not have their phone away when out is beyond me -- if you need to have them on then have a message on the phone to tell them to leav a message -- when we only had Public phones we managed fine -- why not now
Greg
7th Feb 2020
1:17pm
The world is changing Grandpa/Grandma...
Blossom
31st Mar 2020
9:56pm
there is there is no public phones at all in some areas. They used to have some outside Post Offices. Good Luck finding one these days. I have a mobile which I got when my Mum had to go to hospital a few times. The staff would ask how can we contact you. My reply would be "when I get home". The next comment would be "haven't you got a mobile phone?" That happened a few times within a month. For peace of mind I got one. It is handy for emergencies receiving or making calls, text messaging etc. I can go weeks without using mine although I do set my alarm sometimrd
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
12:38pm
I believe that there are quite simple, cheap and effective devices that will cancel internet/phone reception in quite specifc areas, - so if such were installed at crossings etc, - and clearly sign posted at the approaches, then people would have a whole new attitude based on losing signal and then having to think about it.
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
12:50pm
of course Google etc. would oppose it, but not take responsibility either.
Curious
7th Feb 2020
12:56pm
In Chinatown, there are red, amber and green lights on the roads at the traffic lights for these pedestrian zombies to look down when they cross the roads. Did they work for them? Apparently not!. This addiction on the phone crosses ethnicity and gender. Very scary to watch on the streets.
Greg
7th Feb 2020
1:20pm
But you can't control the reception like that, what about people walking along doing the right thing or not crossing the road at all. We may as well move to North Korea if you want that kind of control placed on us.

Adults should be able to make prudent decisions about their phone use, not need the government to control us.
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
1:59pm
Greg, of course you can control the reception like that, - I thought you are a young one who knows such things, - easy to just target the pavement just where you step out from.
Streuth, they can use those frequencies to kill you, - not economic, fortunately,..yet.
Unfortunately the cohort you wish to appeal to, - "Members of the right to walk across roads when it says dont walk because you are texting" , are all dead so you may not get much of a petition going.
You may be surprised to hear that Seat Belts have been compulsory for decades, - yes there are often unnecessary rules and regulations, and should be opposed if unnecessary, but also a person who demands the right to "Text or Die", doesn't have to clean up the mess, deal with the traffic delay, sort out the legals, - on and on.
Don't get me wrong, I an an ardent reader, - used to read 3 books a day every day when I was young, - still do, - not quite so many, - and my first intimation that it could be a problem when one day at Primary school, innocently reading my book under the desk I became aware of two huge hairy hands at either side of my book, - and there was the Headmaster, - 6 inches from my eyes, glaring down at me, - everybody else had gone home, - exhibiting conflicting emotions.
Well I have had a rich and full life and contributed to human evolution, and still dong it, I would hate to have this opportunity/life taken away from me because of my Ability to Focus.
Please think a bit Greg.
Curious
7th Feb 2020
12:47pm
I call these people zombies, who are not risking their lives either walking or driving, are risking other people's lives. I nearly fell off the escalator going down when a person in front of me decided to go back to the top of the escalator after she received a text message. The mentality of the importance and urgency of the text message on the phone is highly overrated and getting ridiculous. There is a psychological issue here, just like people addicted to poker machines. Addiction of any kind is not healthy for anyone. Governments should look into it and makes it safe for all, not just the addicts.
Worried
7th Feb 2020
2:37pm
totally agree !!
Ted Wards
7th Feb 2020
12:49pm
Yep as a full time pedestrian I could regale you for hours about what I see. I used to pull so many people back from crossings when they were fixated on their phones and walked when it said don't walk, until I got abused. I literally shoved that person back to where they were, luckily there were no cars in the vicinity. Now I don't because Id be doing it everyday. If they are stupid enough to cross a road and not pay attention because of their phone, it's their problem. I for one am glad of the new fines and it should be spread to scooters, skateboards and parents with prams. When we did we become so important that we have to be glued to our phones every waking moment. It's not worth your life, but if you are that vacant and not present to your surroundings, what happens is your own fault.
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
1:16pm
Ted there used to be an annual event called the Darwin Award, - given to the top ten stories of the persons who had taken themselves out of the gene pool in the most ridiculous and hilarious way, - they were great, but I don't get sent them any more, = all your old Internet joke friends die also, not just your family..
However, at least they contributed something, walking in front of a speeding car because you ignored the don't walk sign is certainly very stupid, but so common it is boring. :)
BillF2
7th Feb 2020
1:07pm
Maybe there should be a warning label attached to mobile phones similar to cigarette packages, saying "texting in public can be dangerous to your health".
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
2:12pm
Bill, there are emotionally confronting signs all along the highways appealing to peolpe to not text whilst driving, - pictures of suffering dogs, "who will miss you", pictures of huge truck 5 metres in front of your windscreen and your finger on the mobile, typing "Mom'.
Maybe it works, it should, I find it quite confronting and don't ever text when I drive, - good publicity campaign from that Govt. department.
JoJozep
7th Feb 2020
2:11pm
You think phones are bad? What about the car GPS, side cameras, and road ahead cameras, not to mention weather forecasts, radio and even streaming TV or movies. Some cars have screens with picture in picture and occupy half the dashboard (Hondas in particular).

The other day a neighbour picked me up to go to a local shopping centre in a high end Honda. As he reversed in my driveway, he got horribly close at first to denting his car because he was looking at the wrong reversing picture, and the PnP was on wide angle. The left reversing mirror (picture/movie on dash was also set on wide angle), the Warning light was on (couldn't find it at first) the warning buzzer sounded, but by the time my 80 year old neighbour reacted, we felt a jolt. H was too embarrassed to get out and look. I found out later he did $1,000 damage.

Driving at local speed (max 50 kmh) on the way to the shops, a rabbit jumped across the road, the car detected it and braked immediately, unaware a cement truck was behind us, my neighbour looked like he just ate a prickly pear, we saved the rabbit, the cement truck managed to pull up 300 mm from our rear and the truck driver got out to speak to my neighbour. I can't repeat the short sentence he uttered, brandishing his fist! Then I noticed my neighbour was frozen with fright, and I asked him if he was ok.! He couldn't answer.

I mean, he also had smart phone with in-dash control panel, so he didn't need to touch his phone, but he looked down to turn off the radio, and turn up the phone volume. This took him 3 seconds. Meanwhile, he was aiming for a parked car, by which time the panel lit up and a dozen warning messages and sounds blurted out, confusing even me (who wasn't driving) with what's going on. Finally, after I prayed a little, we parked. When we got home, I went into the garage and kissed my 18 year old Territory, for looking after me all those years. I didn't have to take my eyes off the road once.

My point is it's not just the mobile phone people have to contend with that breaks road rules, but all the other gizmos that don't break any road rules, but are even more distracting. When are they going to do a drive test and time how many times modern cars distract driving attention? The road rules would then be changed to ban all these hi-tec gizmos in the latest cars. I'm not against Hi-Tech advancements, so long as they don't demand attention while driving. So much for self drive cars, and although my son was a chief engineer designing self drive cars at Tesla, (and now designs self drive trucks) giving me a test drive in a Tesla almost caused me to black out, if not shite myself. Luckily he was driving in CA. and his hands were never far from the steering wheel.

Please laugh if you feel the urge, but all i"ve said above is true and I'm still shaking when I think of it.
Incognito
9th Feb 2020
1:54am
That is scary stuff, there must be a way to turn off half the distractions, I am not liking the sound of the automatic breaking part with a truck behind you.
lysistrata
7th Feb 2020
2:31pm
Saw young woman crossing an intersection the other day reading a book!! This was in an inner city suburb of Melbourne, and she was holding the book right up in front of her face. Low tech I know but just as potentially lethal.
Worried
7th Feb 2020
2:35pm
You cannot walk down the main streets in the city of Brisbane without people bumping into you because they are looking at their phones. its ridiculous, or people stopped dead in the middle of nowhere so you have to skirt around them. its just plain rude. when i worked in brisbane i would get the crowded bus home and if i got a seat I would be surrounded by at least 10 people talking really loudly on their mobile phone, and I mean really loudly - did you get the washing off the line? get the bottle of red out I will be home soon? its ridiculous and I am not interested in their banal conversation. organise yourself, work out how to manage your time. its very noisy having to listen to this terrible noise on the bus especially when you are tired from work. so rude. go to other countries and people are less selfish. for example, in finland when you catch the bus, there is perfect silence, no one would dare talk on the phone. we have lost of consideration for other people. our culture needs to change. i even have a friend who visits and brings her phone. if someone sends an email there is a beep and she stops the conversation to look at the message and reply while i am sitting there. nothing is that important. its pure selfishness and people cannot manage their time. they dont care about other people. that simple. they will get hit on the roads that's true. they are addicted to their phones. and lets face it, they are probably only looking at what someone is eating at a restaurant. in brisbane some of the shops have signs that say they wont serve people who are talking on their mobile phones. good on them. the shop assistants eg at the airport say people dont even look at them when they buy things they just keep talking. they must think they are so important. mobiles should be banned on buses - being able to talk on them anyway. end of rant !! also I know someone whose 14 year old daughter texts and calls her 5 times a day from school. how can this girl learn resilience if she is always calling her mother !!
Incognito
9th Feb 2020
2:02am
Yes people are becoming less and less caring about those around them, just plain inconsiderate.
Hillsie
7th Feb 2020
4:50pm
Near Camberwell Station, Melbourne, police regularly issue on- the- spot fines of nearly $80 to people crossing the road whilst using their phones.
Lookfar
7th Feb 2020
4:54pm
Hear hear!!
Eddy
7th Feb 2020
5:27pm
Anyone using their smartphones, or any other device, while locomoting in public places are obvious candidates for Darwin Awards.
Eddy
7th Feb 2020
5:47pm
The Darwin Awards …….. recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool ….. by their own action.
casper dude
7th Feb 2020
5:36pm
It's all a very worrying addiction. No character about people any more, just all wired up looking very stressed as though there is no tomorrow. Very sad.
KSS
7th Feb 2020
10:46pm
More researching the bleeding obvious!
Frankly
8th Feb 2020
11:57am
Of course! It's also the reason road fatalities are increasing, plus all the increased signage and "safety measures" on our roads which distract drivers. They did a trial in Denmark removing all signage on roads in one district and accidents actually decreased! Common sense.
Jennie
8th Feb 2020
2:03pm
I watch people staring at their phones while supposedly walking their dogs. The dog is off lead and trailing behind its owner, it poos. The phone addict doesn't watch the dog and therefor walks on oblivious to the poo which of course doesn't get cleaned up. This grassy area I'm referring to is a school oval where children sit, play and play various sports. It's disgusting. I am tired of cleaning up other people's dog poo, and yes I have dogs but also plenty of poo bags and never walk anywhere looking at a phone.
Lookfar
8th Feb 2020
3:32pm
So many people, totally involved with their internal emotional landscape, unable to stand back and think about who they are, what can they achieve with their life, unable to even take respnsibility for their pooing dogs when it is legally required, lost in some spiral of self worship/hatred, - I blame the un-thought attitudes of their parents and the lack of ability of the education system to encourage creative thought.
Just now, with Climate Crisis worsening, we need creative thought, Alas it seems unlikely.
Jennie
8th Feb 2020
5:27pm
Yes, Lookfar you are right. There are too many narcissists these days acting out "me, me me."
Incognito
9th Feb 2020
2:24am
They (dog owners) do it without looking at their phones, the ones that annoy me is the ones who do pick it up and then throw it into the bushes, I have seen them left on the beach, on seats, hanging from tree's just to name a few.
Jennie
9th Feb 2020
9:17am
Yes musicveg this is also true. Where we live there is dog poo left along the Esplanade, and it's the owners of big dogs that leave it. Some people even put the poo into a poo bag and leave the bag on the ground!!
JoJozep
9th Feb 2020
2:53pm
The point I was trying to make above (and hopefully staying on the discussion topic), was that modern cars have too many built in gadgets/ distractions which do not, in my opinion, make the car safer. In act the opposite.

Simply, by the time one reacts to a long forgotten warning light, looks down, presses a few buttons to confirm, looks up again, he's already up the tail of a concrete mixer, and at 30 Kmh. Too late to brake, he's already going round and round. This is currently legal to drive such cars! I say ban all modern cars that have complicated warning, advice or visual screen systems, until an expert committee issues a proper roadworthy on purchase.

A good way to make manufacturers sit up and listen is to stop buying brand new cars with all these gizmos. I guarantee, they'll bring out a non sophisticated model in months. All they have to do is delete half the dashboard, so they actual improve their profits! All we want are four important gauges in addition to RPM and speedometer: a fuel gauge, an alternator gauge an oil pressure gauge and engine thermometer gauge. The rest are junk! If design limits are exceeded, these gauges will gently blink, warning for example while towing a heavy caravan, the charging circuit is over loaded, or the oil pressure is too low or the engine is overheating.

This brings up another point. How many inexperienced drivers know for example why cars stop when crossing flood waters? How many don't realize modern cars are basically leak proof and will float away at a river crossing or low bridge? Many. No one in the traffic Licence Division or Roadworthy division ever explains these dangers. Small cars are the worst offenders!

Why, because they suck in air to work like all other petrol engines. The lower placed the air intake, the greater the risk of sucking water into the engine. Also, how many idiots you see driving at a normal pace in floodwaters, creating a bow wave that actually forces extra water into the engine. Yet these nincompoops are issued a licence at registration time. They know the road rules but not the mechanical rules they must observe to protect their new investment.
Even the off road idiots know the basics of the cars ability in managing their overturning capability and the basics of the laws of gravity. They still manage to overturn their vehicles and some are badly hurt. Wow what fun! At least they gave everyone else a good laugh!
Lookfar
9th Feb 2020
9:44pm
Hi Jojozep, many good points, particularly about folk being educated how to eg ride a horse but no idea it has to be fed, watered, rubbed down and cooled after a hard ride, etc, it is some sort of keep every one ignorant idea transferred to cars.
Why?
I guess if you get everyone staggering around in some sort of mindless daze, and surround them with an overload of stimulus, then you get lots of distracting accidents, - which keep lots of accident fixers busy,
which keeps lots of stuff going round and round, although it achieves very little.
The point is, accidents caused by poor design, particularly deliberate poor design, produce Activity, but not Legacy.
alfie
13th Feb 2020
7:29am
What about shopping and talking on their phone at the same time blocking aisles and shelves.
Lookfar
13th Feb 2020
11:14am
Surely not a life or death issue, and likely to fail, dragging down the genuinly important actions needed.
Presumably tongue in cheek, alfie?
ozjames70
9th Oct 2020
5:47pm
Blaming phones is as absurd as blaming cars for road deaths and roads for road deaths. It is people and them not taking responsibility and walking around with a self-engrossed, 'I'm okay, but ignore the world' attitude.

Every day during my walks, I am regularly yelled at by electric bike riders for walking too slow on the footpath. The electric bikes are silent and unlike pushbikes, don't have a bell.
Neither of them should be on the footpath. So when I have been clipped three times now, was the footpath to blame?

On the odd occasion I drive, I have encountered people wearing headsets or engrossed in smartphones or other media devices, walk out in front of me. An ambulance driver told me they often have sirens on and lights flashing, but riders and drivers won't get out of the way.

What happened to following rules, being civil and responsibility. Seems like a generation or two are ignoring this.

Just came home on the train and balancing my shopping and walking stick. 8 seats in the carriage for people with impaired mobility and over the 35-minute ride, not one person gave up 'their' seat. I guess they all felt entitled.


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