Walkers Put Phones Over Safety, Liberty Mutual Says

Drivers aren’t the only people that need to put away their mobile phones to increase safety on the roads, according to Liberty Mutual Holding Co.

Pedestrians are putting themselves at risk by sending messages and chatting on phones, according to a U.S. survey by the Boston based insurer. One quarter of people say they text or send e-mails while crossing the street and 51 percent talk on the phone, according to the survey. Three-quarters of respondents said they didn’t consider it dangerous to have a phone conversation while crossing.

“People think a problem, an accident, a crash, a pedestrian being hit, it’s not going to happen to me,” Dave Melton, who helps oversee safety initiatives at Liberty Mutual, said in an interview. “People are not as capable of multitasking as they think they are.”

Liberty Mutual, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and Allstate Corp. are among insurers that have sought to limit distractions on the road as consumers increase use of mobile phones. Sales of Apple Inc.’s iPhone jumped to about 125 million units in the most recently completed fiscal year from 40 million two years earlier.

The number of U.S. pedestrian deaths climbed 3 percent in 2011 from a year earlier to 4,432, even as driver fatalities fell for a sixth straight year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nine in 10 people said it is dangerous to read or send messages behind the wheel, according to the Liberty Mutual survey. Still, 38 percent said they engage in such activity.

Almost three quarters of pedestrian fatalities occurred in urban areas, the NHTSA said in an analysis of 2010 data. More than two-thirds of them occurred at night.

‘Lost in Thought’

Drivers involved in fatal U.S. car crashes were more often “lost in thought” than distracted by phones, according to an Erie Insurance Group analysis of crash data. Daydreaming and being lost in thought was the distraction 62 percent of the time, compared with 12 percent for mobile-phone use, Erie said.

Liberty Mutual’s findings are based on a survey of 1,004 U.S. adults by telephone in April. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, the insurer said.

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