Did you know that a child’s average age for receiving their first smartphone is 10.3 years old? The age number has been dropping as phones and social media usage grow ubiquitous. Roughly two in five kids have at least one social media account by the time they are only 11.4 years old, and one in nine has an account before the age of 10.
What does this mean? Take a look around you. Both adults and kids, especially teens, walk down the street with their eyes firmly glued to a small screen, occasionally tapping in a text message or social media post. It’s called being a pedtextrian, meaning someone who uses their phone while walking. It is a dangerous habit.
Pedestrian Deaths Steadily Rising
Pedestrian deaths have been going up for several years, both in terms of real numbers and as a percentage of all traffic fatalities. In 2015, the U.S. lost 5,376 pedestrians of all ages, amounting to 15 percent of all traffic fatalities. Just ten years before, in 2006, pedestrian deaths had totaled 4,795, making up 11 percent of all traffic fatalities.
During 2015, approximately one in five kids—21 percent—who were 14 and younger and who died in traffic situations were pedestrians. Kids aged 10 to 14 suffered from the most injuries, but the second-highest pedestrian injury rate occurred among teens aged 15 to 19.
In South Carolina, we are no stranger to the trends. During 2016, the total number of pedestrian deaths was 149, or 13.1 percent of all pedestrians in traffic crashes. Of the 149 fatalities, 15 were kids 19 and under. Injury-causing pedestrian crashes have been steadily increasing in our state as well.
The 2016 total for SC pedestrian deaths is far higher than any other year from 2012 through 2015.
But What about Distraction?
The truth is, we don’t have any hard numbers for how many pedestrian deaths are caused by being a “pedtextrian” or otherwise walking distracted. However, the numbers of kids carrying devices continues to spike, and the death rate for dying while walking with a phone in our hands keeps on jumping. The numbers of all traffic accidents caused by distraction are on the rise.
Some food for thought is an older but well-known study by the Nielsen Company that indicated teens sent or received a mind-boggling number of text messages. In 2010, kids aged 13 to 17 sent nearly 3,400 text messages a month. That’s roughly six messages per waking hour, day in and day out. Such high numbers actually drop once a child turns 18, so it’s your middle schooler and high schooler that you need to worry about most when it comes to being a pedtextrian.
By the way, if you are an adult who walks with their attention focused on their phone, you are just as vulnerable to injury or death by walking distracted as any child or teen. The phenomenon is called “inattention blindness,” meaning that it is virtually impossible to do more than one major task at a time well. Thus, if your attention is focused on your phone, you are more likely to have an accident. No one of any age can pay attention to traffic and answer a text simultaneously without putting themselves in significant danger.
Safety Tips for Your Young Walker
Distracted pedestrians are a problem for everyone. Here are some safety suggestions you should communicate to your kids:
- Never use an electronic device (phone, MP3 player, and so on) while walking, but especially while you are crossing the street.
- Don’t walk with headphones on.
- Always use the sidewalk if one is available. If one isn’t, walk facing traffic as far off the road as possible, staying focused on your surroundings.
- Always cross at intersections. Make eye contact with drivers before crossing if you can; never assume they see you.
- If no intersection is available, use a well-lighted area, wait for a lull in traffic, and keep watching left and right for vehicles.
- Wear visible clothing, especially at dusk and after dark. Reflective items and flashlights can also help.