For Teens, Texting While Walking Is Also Dangerous

For teenage drivers (or anyone, really), texting while driving is a bad idea. Texting while walking may not be much safer. A new study from Safe Kids Worldwide (PDF), a Washington (D.C.)-based nonprofit, found that 40 percent of teens say they’ve been hit or nearly hit by a car, bike, or motorcycle while walking. The primary culprit: distraction from a mobile device.

In a survey of more than 1,000 teens age 13 to 18, researchers found that of those who said they were hit or almost hit, 47 percent were listening to music while crossing the road, 18 percent were texting, and 20 percent were talking on the phone.

Teens themselves don’t seem to see the connection between paying attention and staying safe. When asked whether it’s normal to cross the street with texting or talking on the phone, 63 percent of teens who’ve been hit or almost hit said yes, compared with less than half of teens who hadn’t been hit. And in response to questions about what happened when the teens were hit or nearly hit, only 13 percent said they didn’t look both ways; 24 percent said the driver was going too fast; 10 percent said the driver wasn’t paying attention.

In addition to common-sense suggestions like “don’t text while you cross the street” and “cross at the crosswalk, with the light,” the report recommends enforcement of pedestrian safety laws; almost 80 percent of teens surveyed said they would be less likely to cross in the middle of a street if laws against doing so were enforced. As it is, state laws widely vary. In Massachusetts, for example, the fine for a first-time offense remains a mere $1, while Los Angeles charges a $197 fee for crossing against the light. Seattle, which has a strong anti-jaywalking culture and many pedestrian advocacy groups, had the second-lowest annual pedestrian fatality rate of 2.7 per 10,000 pedestrian commuters—and no deaths of pedestrians under the age of 16—according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

In 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 284 teens died from pedestrian incidents.

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