Richmond’s new GRTC Pulse high capacity rapid transit system brings both an efficient travel option for the city’s commuters and a new set of challenges for its pedestrians. Those pedestrian challenges can be overcome with vigilance and focus, requiring us to minimize distractions and make our personal safety a priority.
We all know that driving with our attention divided can be hazardous. There are initiatives like Distracted Driving Awareness Month, campaigns and educational outreach from organizations like End Distracted Driving, and even a brand new specialty license plate from the Virginia DMV to spotlight the dangers of taking your focus off of the road. But…did you know that the percentage of pedestrians injured due to distractions is growing at an even faster rate than distraction-attributed vehicle vs. vehicle collisions?
As preventable as it is, distracted walking continues to be a dangerous contributor to the overwhelming increase in annual pedestrian injuries and fatalities. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 76,000 injured in traffic collisions in the United States in 2012. That’s one death every 2 hours and an injury every 7 minutes. It is estimated now that nearly 17% of those incidents involved some sort of pedestrian distraction.
How Much Can One Little Distraction Affect You?
According to Safety.com and a study published by New York’s Stony Brook University, researchers found that those who looked at a phone screen while walking were 60% more likely to fail to walk in a straight path than those who did not.
Scientists call the phenomenon “inattentive blindness,” providing data that the human brain has evolved to only be able to adequately focus attention on one task at a time. Simply put, this means when you’re texting or talking on the phone while trying to walk, you cannot give your full attention to either task.
“We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one’s gait and memory recall of [a] target location,” said Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, co-author of the study and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Technology and Management, Stony Brook University.
“People really need to be aware that they are impacting their safety by texting or talking on the cellphone,” he added. “I think the risk is there.”
The same study also concluded that looking at a screen while walking slowed the walking speeds of those measured by 33%, and talking on a phone while walking slowed participants’ walking speeds an average of 16%. In short, if you’re in a hurry to catch a bus, you’ll make it to the station much faster if you focus only on your surroundings and don’t allow distractions to steal your attention.
A Deadly Trend
Safety.com also points out that it’s not just texting while walking that is a problem. Talking, checking email, using social networking apps, and playing games all contribute to the problem of distracted pedestrians.
According to data via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the highest percentages of pedestrian deaths relative to all traffic fatalities occur in New York City (51%), Los Angeles (42%), and Chicago (30%). After years of decline, pedestrian deaths started to climb beginning in 2009. In fact, the Richmond area recorded the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in 2017 than in any other year on record.
While there’s no reliable data directly related to cell phone use, experts speculate that the increase is due in part to distracted users on their cell phones while walking. “We are where we were with cellphone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew it was a problem, but we didn’t have the data,” said Jonathan Akins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Safety?
Avoiding distractions caused by electronic devices can be a challenge. When you’re walking to a GRTC Pulse transit station, make sure to:
- Pay attention to the vehicles and other pedestrians around you.
- Use extra caution near vehicles that are turning or parallel parking.
- Walk in marked pedestrian crossings and obey all pedestrian traffic signals.
- Keep your phone in your pocket or bag until you reach the station. Better yet, stow your phone until after you board the Pulse and then take advantage of their free on-board Wi-Fi access.
Other Pulse Safety Precautions
In order to raise community awareness of the changes we all need to make to help the GRTC Pulse launch safely and successfully, Allen & Allen has launched a campaign to share tips for bus riders, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians throughout May and June, 2018.
Be sure to check our blog every Monday for new and informative articles that can help you stay safe and improve the quality of your commute when sharing the road with Pulse. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter at @allenandallen for quick tips and helpful infographics, and share your own recommendations for safety with us there by using the hashtag #RVAPulsePoints.