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posted: 4/7/2017 1:00 AM

Editorial: Distraction causing needless increase in pedestrian deaths

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  • Distracted walking is becoming a contributor to the rise in pedestrian deaths in the United States, researchers say.

    Distracted walking is becoming a contributor to the rise in pedestrian deaths in the United States, researchers say.
    Associated Press


Distracted driving has to be one of the most fixable problems we face in society. Yet the number of pedestrians dying in the U.S. as a result of traffic accidents continues to rise.

The Governors Highway Safety Association recently released a study that examines state-by-state pedestrian death statistics. It projects, based on the first six months of 2016 as well as historical trends, that 6,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2016. That's up 11 percent from 2015 and up 22 percent from 2014.

More people driving because of cheaper gas and more people working are part of the equation. More people walking for exercise is another.

But overall, researchers feel that distracted driving -- and distracted walking -- are pushing the year-over-year increases.

That jolt of dopamine we get when we see someone has liked our Facebook meme or the heightened sense of urgency we feel during a group texting conversation with family members lend to an impulsive relationship with our phones.

Most of us are slaves to our electronic devices, but how many of us recognize that? How many of us have taken the step of stowing the cellphone in the glove box before starting the engine? How many of us unplug our earbuds when we're walking on a crowded sidewalk or cycling on a busy bike path?

Motorists see admonitions along the tollways to "Drop It and Drive." The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, reported earlier this year that the city of Augsburg, Germany, started embedding traffic lights in the pavement so downward-looking pedestrians would have some notion of what is going on ahead of them.

Having a computer in your hand might make you feel connected to the world in a way you couldn't a decade ago. But it has made us a lot less connected to the people and world around us.

Think of your child or grandchild playing a game on his tablet during a night out at a restaurant, closed off in his own world, neither contributing to nor aware of conversation, likely unaware of what he's eating.

Kind of sad, right?

Now think of yourself and all of the sights and sounds you're robbing yourself of, the missed conversations, because your earbuds are blocking out the sounds of nature or the sounds of traffic or because you're unaware of signs and people and trucks in front of you as you walk down the street with your eyes and brain occupied with Facebook.

Open your eyes. Open your ears. Your life might depend on it.

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