Can cities protect distracted walkers?

Smartphones are a major risk factor on Canadian roads, and not just for drivers. The dangers of texting behind the wheel are well documented, but now safety experts are growing concerned about “distracted walkers” – pedestrians who use their phones while navigating busy city sidewalks.

Every Toronto car accident lawyer understands that pedestrians on cellphones pose far less public risk than drivers on cellphones. However, pedestrians who fail to pay attention to their surroundings are at increased risk of injury, particularly at intersections. Toronto Police reported 40 pedestrian fatalities and 1,702 collisions involving pedestrians last year, and 37 fatalities and 1,845 collisions involving pedestrians in 2017. Some safety advocates believe smartphone use has contributed to these elevated statistics.

Recently, engineers at the University of British Columbia studied video footage of a busy Kamloops intersection to learn more about how smartphone distraction affects pedestrian safety. By identifying near misses and evasive actions rather than relying on collision statistics, the researchers were able to develop a sophisticated distracted walker profile. They found that distracted pedestrians were less predictable in their movements, taking slower, shorter, and less frequent steps. Their stability was also affected.

“If we look at the distance walked and analyze their gait parameters, we can with about 80-per-cent accuracy determine who’s distracted and who’s not, which means that their walking behaviour is quite different,” said study co-author Tarek Sayed, an engineering professor and research chair in transportation safety and advanced mobility at UBC, to the Globe and Mail.

The researchers’ aim was to identify effective protection measures for distracted walkers rather than discourage or punish smartphone use among pedestrians. Some of their ideas included sidewalk “rumble strips” to mark dangerous intersections; double-lane sidewalks allowing faster walkers to pass safely; and more “scramble” crossings at intersections, where cars are stopped in both directions.

“We are changing the way we look at safety,” said Sayed. “Before, we used to look at who’s at fault.”

Like many safety advocates and urban planning professionals, Sayed’s team has identified infrastructure improvements as the most effective means of protecting vulnerable road users. This is a familiar approach to almost every Toronto car accident lawyer – unfortunately, infrastructure projects are expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient to commuters, and thus rarely garner support from municipal decision-makers. For now, pedestrians are advised to limit smartphone use and exercise caution around intersections and busy roadways.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to learn arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Toronto car accident lawyer.


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