Texting is one of the most popular forms of modern communication but the practice is causing some people to suffer injuries due to distraction. A recently coined term “petextrian” refers to a pedestrian who is distracted by a text message conversation, effectively paying more attention to his or her phone than the path ahead. Petextrians are causing problems in many metropolitan areas and some have sustained serious injuries from phone distraction. Petextrians can also easily cause serious injuries to others due to inattention.
Pedestrian Accident Statistics
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released a report that indicated that pedestrian deaths and injuries are increasing for the first time since the 1970s. From the early 1970s until the early 2000s, pedestrian deaths declined nationwide to around 11% of all traffic-related fatalities. Since 2009, that number has increased to nearly 15% of all traffic-related fatalities, roughly equivalent to one pedestrian death every two hours. The GHSA report also found that the number of cell phone-related pedestrian deaths increased from about 1% in 2004 to over 3.5% in 2010. The number of pedestrians who have suffered injuries while using cell phones has more than doubled since 2005.
Texting while walking is especially dangerous for teenagers who typically do not exercise the same level of caution as adults. Roughly 40% of American teenagers have suffered injuries from some kind of passing vehicles such as a car, motorcycle, motorized bike, or bicycle. Teens also display higher smartphone use than other age groups, making them especially susceptible to “petextrian” injuries.
The increase in the overall number of pedestrian deaths and cell-phone-related pedestrian deaths and injuries seems to coincide with the proliferation of smartphones in the mid-to-late-2000s. Unfortunately, many cell phone users do not recognize the dangers of walking while distracted and may suffer injuries from walking into hazards, falling into potholes or open sewer and utility covers, bumping into other pedestrians, or distractedly walking into traffic. Some distracted walking incidents have led to fatalities.
Liability for Petextrian Accidents
If a distracted pedestrian falls and suffers an injury due to a hazard he or she would have likely noticed had he or she been paying attention, then the victim would have very little room for legal recourse if any. Even in the event of a damaged sidewalk, the public entity responsible for maintaining the sidewalk could counter the injured pedestrian’s claim by asserting that the accident wouldn’t have happened had the pedestrian not been distracted.
Petextrians also risk incurring liability if they injure others. For example, pedestrian texting and not paying attention may knock over another pedestrian, causing broken bones, head injuries, or a host of other possible injuries. The injured pedestrian could then file a personal injury claim against the distracted petextrian for his or her damages. In another example, if a driver has to swerve to avoid hitting a distracted petextrian and hits another vehicle, anyone injured in the accident may have legal grounds to file lawsuits against the distracted pedestrian.
It’s vital for pedestrians to use good judgment while walking, and many of the ways you can avoid petextrian accidents are simply common sense. The city of Philadelphia recently launched a “Road Safety, Not Rocket Science” campaign and issued several hundred mock tickets to distracted pedestrians to drive awareness of the dangers of distracted walking. Limit cell phone use to when it is safe to do so and refrain from texting while walking. If you need to respond to a message, stand out of the way of foot traffic and take a moment to send your message and then continue on your way safely.