The Problem of Distracted Pedestrians

A piece from NPR’s Weekend Edition explores the safety challenge of pedestrians who are distracted by cell phones, texting or simply listening to MP3 players, including the sad story of a teen whose iPod was so loud he didn’t hear the freight train that killed him.

Now I’ve been know to walk the streets of Portland reading e-mail on my iPhone. Although I try hard to lift my eyes up when I step off a curb, I’m not sure that I could say I’m always 100% as focused as I should be.

And I’m a podcast junky (all forms of transportation and public policy podcasts) so there’s frequently an earbud in my ear (although since the spoken word does not demand stereo, I purposefully keep one ear bud-free).

How do we high-bandwidth information consumers stay safe out there?


7 responses to “The Problem of Distracted Pedestrians”

  1. I go back and forth on this. I wonder about wild statements like driving with an Ipod on is like driving drunk. I have seen many drunk drivers while on my bus. I have never said “Oh that driver is drunk” only to find they have an Ipod in.

    If I’m driving my car and you were following do you really think you could tell if I had my ipod in vs. if I didn’t have an ipod in?

    So has anyone compared listening to an Ipod vs a bus full of high school kids like I drove on the 71 or the average rush hour 72? so is a full bus like driving drunk?

    Clearly less distracted is better but some of these claims seem silly

  2. My own experience over the years is that people don’t need iPods to be oblivious to their surroundings. Most people seem to travel in a haze of self-absorption that clears a little while they’re driving (if we’re lucky) because they’ve been trained to pay attention behind the wheel. It’s a pity that no one is trained to pay attention, for example, when they’re pushing a shopping cart around Freddie’s. “Ooh, something shiny! I’ll just stop here. No, I’m going to back up!”

    Mobile devices are just another way to zone out.

  3. Walking (or biking for that matter) under the influence of anything…music, booze, dope, phone chatting…can be dangerous and ill-advised, but it primarily puts the “user” at risk, not other people. Legislating against self inflicted foolishness should be avoided at all costs. Motor vehicles, on the other hand, are deadly devices, which need to be licensed, monitored and operated only by licensed individuals who are not distracted, drunk, stoned or otherwise impaired.
    Me, I’m waiting for The Oregonian to call for legalizing drunk driving given their position on cell phones.

  4. …including the sad story of a teen whose iPod was so loud he didn’t hear the freight train that killed him.
    Or how about the kid in Beaverton who wasn’t paying attention while biking and ‘ipod-ing,’ and died when the bus hit him?

    BTW, one of my all-time favorite things was about three years ago… the 4:30-ish 14-Express out of downtown had a driver who’d always announce at 1st & Madison: “Okay everybody, this is just a reminder. This is a number 14, Hawthorne Express, there will be no stops until 39th.”
    Inevitably, somewhere between the Hawthorne Bridge and SE 20th or so, someone wearing earbuds would pull the cord, then with earbuds still in place, wonder why the bus didn’t stop at the last stop. Sometimes, they’d be so far in the back that I’d be the passenger to motion them to take out their earbuds, where I’d nicely tell them they’re in for a nice ride to 39th… :)

  5. Thanks for posting this. I try to be a good, safe driver. I stop for pedestrians trying to cross the road, I try to signal all turns and lane changes, and in general try to keep everyone else around me safe. I get fairly upset though when someone runs out between parked cars into my path of travel, or swerves off a sidewalk into my path.

    I really don’t want anyone to get hurt by my car, but some people are just oblivious to the fact that they also are responsible for their own safety. It’s insulting that the car driver is always at fault in some people’s minds, even if the pedestrian did everything wrong.

    I walk a lot myself. I’m insulted, as a pedestrian, when people complain about how drivers are out to kill them. Usually the people who think all drivers are out to get them are the people who cross a street without pausing, looking, listening, or otherwise paying any attention.

    Pedestrians get this idea they can send an email, or talk on the phone, or get drunk and walk home and it’s totally different than driving. Although I don’t drink and drive, if I walk home from a bar I always use the same safety “don’t screw up” mindset I’d use if I was driving.

    Or maybe I’m just an idiot whose been hit by a car, and never wants that to happen again (to me or anyone else.)

  6. Buy life/accident insurance.

    Pedestrians in this city are particularly awful.

    They just walk right out into the street and expect whatever traffic that just happens to be going by to just SCREECH TO A HALT.

    Hey face it, modern day America is full of hazards.

    The ear buds things are great inventions however.
    Block out the world!
    It’s worth the risk of getting killed.

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