Pedestrian Fatalities: Are Smartphones Responsible?
Smartphones may be contributing to a surge in pedestrian fatalities resulting from motor vehicle accidents, according to recent studies. One report found that pedestrians are getting killed in traffic accidents at the highest rate in decades, which could also be the result of several other factors in addition to smartphone use.
Increasing Pedestrian Deaths
Around 6,590 pedestrians died in car accidents in 2019, according to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association. This number was 5% higher than the previous year. However, the number was even more alarming when compared to figures from over a decade earlier.
While the number of pedestrian fatalities had decreased by more than 2,000 from 1989 to 2009, this trend quickly reversed over the last decade. The GHSA report found that a variety of factors contributed to the surge in pedestrian deaths, including the legalization of marijuana, the shift to SUVs from passenger vehicles, and smartphone use.
Today, approximately 81% of adults in the U.S. carry a smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center study. In 2011, only around 35% owned these devices.
Why Smartphones May Be More Dangerous for Pedestrians
While cellular phones were prevalent throughout the 2000s, the introduction and increased use of smartphones seem to have led to an increase in pedestrian fatalities. One possible reason for this is that people who use their smartphones often text or browse the internet while walking, putting them at a greater risk of getting into an accident compared to those who talk on the phone while walking.
Another recent study in the Journal of Injury Prevention concluded that individuals who text and browse while walking are more likely to get into an accident or “near miss” than pedestrians who merely talk on the phone. While talking on the phone is also risky, texting and browsing provide visual distractions that further remove pedestrians’ attention from the road.
Although smartphone use is a widely suspected cause of the uptick in pedestrian deaths in recent years, the actual evidence of their contribution to pedestrian fatalities is very limited. However, the Injury Prevention study and others are beginning to establish a link between smartphone use and pedestrian accidents, which could further encourage pedestrians to avoid cell phone use and prevent fatal car and trucking accidents. Through additional research over time, this link may become more clear.