City to State: ‘Distracted Pedestrians’ is Not a Thing

It's more likely that drivers are distracted than pedestrians, frankly. Photo: Washington University in St. Louis
It's more likely that drivers are distracted than pedestrians, frankly. Photo: Washington University in St. Louis

I’m payin’ attention here!

City officials have told state lawmakers that they are wrong in thinking that “distracted pedestrians” are causing many vehicular crashes.

In fact, the opposite it true: only 0.2 percent of pedestrian fatality reports blamed “electronic distraction,” according to a new city report that was quietly issued late on Friday.

“Cell phone use by pedestrians does not appear to be disproportionately contributing to fatal pedestrian crashes,” the report stated. “In short, despite growing concerns, DOT found little concrete evidence that device-induced distracted walking contributes significantly to pedestrian fatalities and injuries.”

Those “growing concerns” refer to a 2017 bill by late State Senator Jose Peralta that mandated the city study, citing unspecified “dangers inherent in acting as a pedestrian while distracted by texting.” Other politicians — most notably State Senator John Liu, who has sought to criminalize “distracted walking” — have carried on Peralta’s legacy of blaming pedestrians for their own injuries at the hands of drivers. Last year alone, roughly 10,000 pedestrians were injured by car drivers, who caused more than 228,000 total crashes, according to city data.

The city’s report, “Distraction Shouldn’t Be Deadly,” offers no evidence of widespread distracted walking, citing the 99.8 percent of crash narratives that simply do not mention any texting or phone use at all. The city also sent observers to three signalized intersections in Queens: Queens Boulevard and 44th Street; 34th Avenue and 30th Street, and Broadway and Hooper Street. The agency noticed that many pedestrians were indeed on their phones when crossing, but 87 percent were “not distracted” when crossing the street.

The conclusion: “Cell phone use by pedestrians does not appear to be disproportionately contributing to fatal pedestrian crashes.”

ped-deaths-graph-1

That said, it is foolish to suggest that smartphone use — whose ownership nationally has risen from 35 percent of people in 2011 to near ubiquity today — has not played some role in the 50-percent increase in pedestrian deaths nationally over the last decade. As Streetsblog has reported, pedestrian deaths hit a national low in 2009, when 4,109 people were killed. By 2018, that number had risen to 6,227.

The city report showed that despite the increase in pedestrian deaths, a pedestrian’s use of an electronic device just before a crash still amount to .2 percent of incident reports.

The report said the city would not focus on blaming distracted pedestrians but it would continue in-school programs with middle-school kids, who are likely walking unaccompanied for the first time just as they begin to acquire smartphones of their own. That program is called “Cross this Way.”

But the larger message is clear: Drivers are to blame, and roadways must be made safe so that their errors and speeding do not result in death.

“DOT believes that the best way to address distracted walking, and all forms of distraction, is by creating a road environment focused on speed management – where vehicles are traveling at a safe speed so that crashes can be avoided, and when crashes do occur they are not fatal or severe. People will inevitably be distracted when they walk with mobile devices, or may be distracted in other ways. But, in line with New York City’s Vision Zero policy, this common human error should not result in death.”

Read the report yourself below:

New York City DOT Report: Distraction Shouldn’t Be Deadly by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

In New NHTSA Report, Scarce Information on Causes of Pedestrian Deaths

|
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported last December that while overall traffic fatalities in the United States dropped in 2010, pedestrian deaths rose higher – up four percent in 2010 over 2009. Yesterday, the agency released some more detailed statistics about those crashes [PDF], but the report includes scarcely any data or analysis about the underlying […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Why Are American Traffic Fatalities Rising So Quickly?

|
Summer is barely over but this much is already clear: Traffic safety on American streets is taking a big step backward in 2016. During the first five months of the year, traffic deaths rose 9 percent over 2015 levels, reports Bill Holloway at the State Smart Transportation Campaign. It’s even worse if you compare to 2014 — traffic deaths have increased […]

Inside the Latest “Distracted Pedestrians” Con

|
Hospital records from 2014 showed that distracted walking accounted for 78% of pedestrian injuries throughout the United States. — Daily News, Sunday, March 27, 2016 A report released in 2015 by the Governors Highway Safety Association found an increase in pedestrian fatalities, and cited texting while walking as partly to blame. Nearly two million pedestrian injuries […]
Each year, thousands of Americans are killed while walking on dangerous roads.
STREETSBLOG USA

The Unequal Toll of Pedestrian Deaths

|
News reports tend to blame the victims of these crashes for transgressions like "distracted walking" or crossing where they shouldn't have. But a new analysis from Smart Growth America highlights how pedestrian deaths are a systemic problem caused by the dangerous design of our streets and transportation systems.