NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Distracted Pedestrians Prompt New Laws

February 3, 2011

A recent increase in pedestrian fatalities is once again prompting lawmakers to regulate the use of electronic gadgets by pedestrians and motorists.  After falling for four straight years, the number rose in the first half of 2010.  One theory is that many pedestrians are too distracted by their electronic habits to notice a truck bearing down on them, says Reason Magazine.

If cell phones and media gadgets were spawning an epidemic of pedestrian carnage, though, you'd think it would have erupted before now.  Both have been in widespread use for years, and yet pedestrian deaths have declined.  It's easy to imagine other reasons for the recent spike:

  • Unemployment was very high in 2010 and those who are out of work may walk more, to save gas and money.
  • Public transit cuts have also forced some riders to walk more.

Laws don't always work as intended.  It may sound only prudent to prohibit drivers from text messaging.  But a recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDA) found that in three of four states that imposed such bans, auto crashes increased.  Why?  The HLDA says some motorists could be holding their phones down, out of sight of police, to do their texting, "taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time."  But even if gadgets are indeed luring pedestrians toward premature death, a ban would be an enforcement nightmare, says Reason.

Source: Steve Chapman, "Should We Ban Walking While Wired?" Reason Magazine, January 31, 2011.

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