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Texting while walking -- it's a killer

August 06, 2013|By Patt Morrison
  • Pedestrians outside a metro station in northwest Washington, D.C. The Transportation Department has launched a campaign to stop distracted walking and the deaths and injuries that have risen because of it.
Pedestrians outside a metro station in northwest Washington, D.C. The… (Associated Press/Pablo…)

More pedestrians are getting killed and hurt now than 10 and 20 years ago.

In Los Angeles, nearly half of all car-related deaths now are pedestrians. (Yes, we have them here, as the Venice tragedy reminded us.)

Why is this? Crosswalks are better marked, and in some cases paved with textured material to signal their presence. “Walk” and “Don’t walk” signs are more plentiful, and are more clearly flagged, with those flashing countdown-to-red numbers. Drivers in L.A. wait for pedestrians more often and more courteously than elsewhere in the country, or the world. (More than once, I’ve stepped into a street in another city, obediently following the green “Walk” signal, and nearly got plowed by a car.)

The curve ball in these statistics, then, is pedestrians and what they do now that they didn’t do 10 and 20 years ago.

Like pay attention. Pedestrians are walking while talking on the phone, or distracted by music, trundling along with their heads down, reading texts or sending them, oblivious to traffic and traffic signals.

It’s the stuff of news reports, and of comic fodder on the Internet, where snickering commenters like to point out that it’s simply a new method of culling the gene-pool herd.

But E.R. doctors aren’t finding it funny as the deaths and injuries begin to mount up.

Now, for the measures to stop them.

As The Times reports, the Department of Transportation is putting $2 million in grants out there to combat this problem.

The transportation secretary is planning a pedestrian advocacy summit this autumn to, as the story says, “improve conditions for pedestrians.” Drivers are a big part of that, but pedestrians have to wise up too.

Fort Lee, N.J., took one approach last year. After three deaths of distracted pedestrians, it began issuing $85 tickets for distracted walking.

London actually padded lampposts experimentally in Brick Lane because ambling texters were banging into them so often as they walked while texting. So British – oh, we’re terribly sorry our lampposts are in your way.

When I see these zoned-out texters walking toward me I'm tempted simply to stand still, like a lamppost, and see whether they really will walk right into me, but I move at the last minute because I am sure they will, and while a lamppost doesn’t bruise, I do.

Sometimes they stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk to text, and it looks like a Three Stooges pileup. They should do what drivers should do if they have to do something other than walk, or drive – step or pull over, out of everyone’s way, and take care of business before you get into the flow of foot traffic or car traffic again.

L.A.’s pedestrian death toll has traditionally been nearly twice as high as the national average, which is why the LAPD says it aggressively tickets jaywalkers. Bopping randomly into the street can get you killed, and trying to dash across L.A.’s wide streets to dodge fast drivers is an invitation to miscalculation. The head of the teachers union was killed in 1997 as she jaywalked across a seven-lane street. 

I don’t think the DOT should parcel out its $2 million in pedestrian safety money in little bits of change to random municipalities. What’ll you get out of that? Probably more pamphlets no one will read.

Put that money to a single message: PSAs. You’ve seen the video spots out there now: the mother of a paralyzed son, the grieving parents of a dead girl, victims of texting behind the wheel. Sometimes the ads show the last text sent before the crash. On wheels or on foot, it’s never important, it’s never life or death, until it triggers death.

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