Watch out for distracted pedestrians with their heads in the “cloud”

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We're reminded often of the dangers of distracted driving, but what about distracted bikers and pedestrians? Charleston is an enormous Petrie Dish for this dangerous problem, creating a perfect storm for potentially tragic situations.

Recently I was virtually alone on an escalator at Logan Airport in Boston, while the down escalator was jammed with hundreds of travelers from offloading planes. Everyone had their "wise" heads down as they peered into their "smart" phones. Add in roads and vehicles…you get the picture.

Here are some stats to demonstrate:

In the Greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, pedestrian deaths grew from 20 percent in 2005 to 25 percent in 2013.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Injury Prevention found that nearly 1/3 of pedestrians at 20 notable high-risk intersections in Seattle were observed listening to music, texting or using a cellphone.

A 2013 Ohio State University study found that from 2005 to 2010, ERs treated more than double the number of injuries (1500) to pedestrians who were overly engaged with their cell phones Those most likely to be hit were between the ages of 16 and 25.

A 2013 Liberty Mutual survey found that as many as 60 percent of pedestrians are using their cellphones while crossing the street.

Current research gleaned from these and other sources strongly suggests that cell phone/music using pedestrians walk slower, tend not to notice objects in their environment, select smaller crossing gaps in traffic, are less likely to look at or stop for oncoming traffic, are more likely to walk out in front of traffic, and are, in a sense, unintentionally blind.

Looking at peninsular Charleston, there are lots of students, visitors and tourists, with distractions aplenty for them to gaze at, long before you put on the music or turn on the phone. We have delivery trucks rushing, pedi-cabs hustling, and an ever-increasing number of bikes, skateboards and golf carts. We have lots of impatient, busy, multi-tasking people plopped down all in a pretty tight space.

Our narrow sidewalks are often crammed tighter by ancient trees and shrubbery, and our narrow streets have cars jockeying for space. There are lots of side lanes and back alleys to pop out of, most of them with dim lighting obscured by foliage and beautiful, historic buildings.

What can you do to avoid possibly being held accountable for what you thought was an innocent, harmless habit? Consider putting your beloved device away in a pocket or purse. If not, at least agree to look up and look out, pay attention to your surroundings, and keep your eyes scanning to avoid injury to yourself or another. Otherwise, there's just no telling who or what you may encounter with your head in a "cloud."

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