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Are cell phones causing the rise in pedestrian accidents?

In 2016, the number of fatal pedestrian accidents is estimated at more than 6,000. That is the highest figure in more than 20 years, and is the largest year-over-year increase in at least 40 years. The sharp increase in collisions involving pedestrians is part of a larger trend. While recent years have been bad for deadly car accidents, pedestrian deaths are growing even faster. From 2010 to now, the pedestrian death rate has increased four times faster than the vehicle fatality rate.


The question for many safety experts is what has caused the change in pedestrian safety. Some issues tied to pedestrian accidents are well-established and not prone to fluctuation. Drunk driving accidents involving pedestrians happen regularly, but there is no evidence that this behavior is on the rise. Speeding and aggressive driving are common issues in pedestrian fatalities, but these, too, have remained relatively static in recent years. Many believe that the increase in pedestrian deaths is tied to the use of smartphones, which has undeniably increased over recent years. 

Distracted driving is not restricted to cell phone use, but other forms of distraction such as eating and talking with passengers, are no different now than they ever were. Smartphones, however, play a much larger role now than they did even a few years ago. Texting bans have attempted to stem this tide in some states, but surveys show that more and more drivers are using their phones while behind the wheel. This form of distraction is the likely cause of the spike in deadly pedestrian accidents.

Tips for pedestrians

The majority of fatal accidents involving pedestrians happen at night and in areas designated for cars. Only 1 in 5 pedestrian deaths happen at intersections. With that in mind, here are a few tips for safe walking.

· Whenever possible, you should stay off the driving surface while walking. Use the sidewalk, if there is one.

  • Walk facing traffic.
  • Wear reflective clothing and carry a light if you are walking at night.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings. Cell phones can be a deadly distraction for pedestrians and drivers, alike.
  • Look before you cross, even if you have the walk signal.
  • Don't wear headphones while walking where cars might hit you.

Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing, even at unmarked intersections. That will be little comfort if you are struck by a vehicle. Drivers should avoid using cell phones while driving. There is no safe way to use a cell phone while driving. Still, pedestrians need to be aware that distracted drivers are everywhere. Keep that in mind when you are walking near motor vehicles.

Source: CNN, "Smartphones may be to blame for unprecedented spike in pedestrian deaths," by Matt McFarland, 30 March 2017 

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Ben Schmitt

Attorney Ben Schmitt

Mr. Schmitt has over 25 years of legal experience in Missouri and Kansas, and he has been first chair in over 100 jury trials in state and federal courts. He is recognized by the Kansas City Business Journal, Super Lawyers, and Martindale Hubbell as one of the best personal injury lawyers in Missouri and Kansas.