By Mark Giancaspro.
As beneficial as they are to our lives, mobile phones also present a legitimate threat to public safety – and not because of on-road use or radiation.
Many mobile phone users now text, or intently perform some other function on their phone, while walking. This is commonly seen in public places – especially at road crossings.
In Australia, as many as one in three pedestrians use a mobile phone while crossing the road. Following recent reports in New South Wales and Victoria of an increase in the number of distracted pedestrians being injured or killed, there are now calls to explicitly outlaw people from using their phones while walking.
What’s the problem?
A 2010 study conducted by researchers at Western Washington University in the US found that pedestrians using their mobile phones:
… walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently, and were less likely to acknowledge other people.
This exposed them to far greater risk of an accident.
The practice was also shown to decrease situational awareness and cause “inattentional blindness” (the inability to detect new and distinctive stimuli). Participants in the study failed to notice a clown on a unicycle while walking on their common route.
A more recent study concluded:
Pedestrian behaviour requires a complex set of cognitive skills including attentional processes, visual and aural perceptual processes, information processing, decision-making and motor initiation.
Using your mobile phone while walking compromises all of these skills.
One in five fatalities on Australian roads is a pedestrian. Each year, 350 pedestrians die on Australia’s roads. Around 3500 are seriously injured.
The economic cost of pedestrian accidents to the Australian community exceeds A$1 billion. This does not even begin to account for the emotional toll this takes on the parties involved and their families. There is some evidence that most motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians stem from the latter’s inattentiveness.
What does the law say?
There are no laws within any Australian jurisdiction specifically targeting pedestrians using their mobile phones. Such behaviour may, however, be caught by other offence provisions such as jaywalking.
In South Australia, for example, a person:
… must not walk without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.
Other states have similar laws.
Part 14 of the Australian Road Rules, which form the basis of the road rules in each Australian state and territory, stipulates a range of offences that might apply to pedestrians caught using their phones.