We hear a lot of debate about the balance between personal freedom and the dangers of distracted driving when it come to smartphones. But now it appears those dangers are becoming an issue for pedestrians.
The Associated Press reports that, based on reports from 100 emergency rooms, an estimated 1,152 people needed hospital treatment in the US last year for injuries suffered while walking and using a portable electronic device (which could also include music players and handheld games consoles.)
As that’s an extrapolation, it’s tough to read too much into the precise figure, though the Consumer Product Safety Commisssion, which produced the statistic, notes that it’s probably an underestimate as it only counts cases where the patient specifically mentioned the electronic device and then staff recorded that fact in their notes.
The figure has risen four-fold in the space of seven years. While the number of people who have cellphones hasn’t changed dramatically in that time, the proportion who own smartphones has shot up. That certainly allows for a loose theory that the main cause for the apparent trend is that users are more likely to spend longer looking at a screen while on the move.
Although there have been some efforts to bring in local laws restricting people from walking in public while being distracted, there has been little appetite for such ideas from local politicians. The closest the AP could find was a token $50 fine for people using distracting electronic devices while crossing light-rail tracks in Salt Lake City.
And while there are even reports of deaths among distracted walkers, it appears many and likely even most of these are because people are wearing earphones rather than because they are looking at screens.
In terms of political debate, the issue seems to come down to who’s affected. It’s certainly feasible that people crossing the road without paying attention may cause injuries to drivers and passengers when cars swerve. For the most part though, it seems the most likely injury is to the pedestrian himself, often walking into walls or posts, or tripping over, and from a criminal perspective at least, the US seems happy to let people face the consequences of their own stupidity.