It’s become an all-too-common sight in Baltimore and communities across Maryland: People walking down the sidewalks and crossing the street with their heads down, looking at their cell phones. Researchers suggest that “distracted walking” — combined with the deadly trend of distracted driving — has contributed to an increase in pedestrian traffic accident injuries and fatalities across the country. Some statistics to make us all look up and take notice:
- The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that nationally, pedestrian accident death rates are rising faster than motor vehicle crash fatality rates.
- CBS News reports that last year, some 6,000 pedestrians died in U.S. traffic accidents.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that pedestrian accident fatalities increased by 9.5 percent in 2015 — the highest numbers seen since 1996.
- NHTSA reports that in 2014, of the 442 total traffic accident fatalities in Maryland, 101 were pedestrian accident deaths.
Maryland has made some positive strides in recent years to curb pedestrian injuries and deaths due to traffic accidents. In fact, preliminary data show that pedestrian fatalities in Maryland and Washington, DC, had decreased for the first six months of 2016. However, far too many people in Maryland are still sustaining serious injuries and losing their lives in pedestrian traffic accidents, which represent roughly one-fifth of our state’s motor vehicle accident fatalities. The 2015 Maryland Highway Safety Office Annual Report states that, “Over the past five years, an average of 106 pedestrians have lost their lives and 2,477 were injured each year as a result of a crash. This loss of life represents 20 percent of all of Maryland’s traffic fatalities.”
In an attempt to curb pedestrian traffic accident injuries and deaths in the region, public safety advocates in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia run a public awareness and education campaign called Street Smart. Since its initial launch in 2002, the campaign “has used radio, newspaper, and transit advertising, public awareness efforts, and added law enforcement to respond to the challenges of pedestrian and bicyclist safety.” Baltimore also joined the national Vision Zero campaign, which endeavors to create a transport system with zero motor vehicle accident deaths. TowardZero Baltimore cites “an average of 12 pedestrians killed, and over 900 seriously injured in traffic crashes each year on Baltimore streets. In 2014, we experienced a significant high of 16 pedestrian fatalities.”
Law enforcement have stepped up efforts to enforce Maryland’s traffic laws that prohibit motorists from using handheld cell phones while driving and all texting while driving. Though Maryland has some of the toughest traffic laws on the books, that doesn’t stop some drivers from continuing to use their electronic devices. Public safety advocates are warning both drivers AND pedestrians to remain alert when on the roadways. For pedestrians, the same common sense tips our mothers gave us before walking to school still ring true: Look both ways before crossing the street, cross only in crosswalks, and push the traffic light button and wait for the pedestrian GO signal before stepping into the street.
The convenience of cell phones has spawned public safety hazards our grandparents could hardly imagine. People are addicted to their electronic devices. But they are not worth dying for. Stay alert, keep your eyes on the road while driving, and watch where you are walking. That phone call or text message can wait.
Pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads spiking; cellphones eyed
CBSNews.com March 30, 2017
Pedestrian Deaths Rise Nationally, But Not In D.C. Or Maryland
WAMU.org March 30, 2017
Baltimore gets the Zero fever!
Baltimore City Department of Transportation May 9, 2016