Pedestrians texting: ignore them at your peril.


Pedestrians texting look ridiculous with their heads bent down focused on their screens. They cannot see you if you are driving, cycling or walking near them so take care when they are around.

In recent months, I have written in this weblog about the growing problem of pedestrians not being aware of their surroundings and putting road safety and their own safety at risk. The impetus for this writing was from walking around a university campus in Canberra and being walked into by young men and women focussed on their texting and not on their pedestrian safety.

In the winter recess, my family attended the Scandinavian film festival in Canberra and saw the film ‘Kings Bay’. In this film, the main character Hetti is unfortunately collected by a car as she walks across the road using her mobile phone. She is killed instantly and the film ‘Kings Bay’ ends in silence. We left the cinema somewhat stunned at witnessing a seemingly on-camera death. The film is a work of fiction but, none-the-less, draws in the film-viewer and takes them on a journey with the character Hetti which sadly ends in tragedy caused by management deceit, digital distraction and on-coming traffic.

Kings BayAnother Scandinavian film called ‘A Man Called Ove’ provides an example of traffic hazards, respect for the law and an untimely death. The film is about a young man Ove who seeks to live his life in Sweden according to the rule of law. He is unfortunately mocked by thoughtless others for seeking to be diligent and lawful, and he sadly loses his father in a train accident. His father is over-joyed that his son has graduated from high school and, caught in the moment, walks blindly onto railway tracks at his workplace. The father is distracted reading his son’s congratulatory paperwork and is killed by an oncoming train.

Both incidents, the mocking of a law-abiding citizen, and the loss of a father through distraction and on-coming traffic, are sadnesses which the film-viewer has to take on board while watching the film called ‘A Man Called Ove’. It is another film example showing how lack of awareness of surroundings and personal safety can permanently snooker a pedestrian.

Road safety is something we are taught at home by well-meaning parents, relatives and neighbours. Mine were certainly careful to teach me to look both ways before stepping out from the kerb. “look left-right-left’ was my family mantra when out in public. Me and my cousins were not allowed to cross the road away from the pedestrian crossing. We had to walk on the pedestrian crossing with safety in mind.

It is unfortunate that some families do not teach their loved ones how to walk safely. Even when working on the land (on the farm) during our summer holidays, we had to be snake and spider alert. Shaking wellies (rubber boots) and other footwear before using our footwear was mandatory. Placing small tools (hammers, weeders, hoof picks and so on) at eye height was also mandatory.

Soft shoe shuffle for pedestrians
Pedestrians: be as safe as old boots

Being foot-safe was critical to survival. But then, we grew up in an era when our grandparents talked about the Great War (First World War) and their ability to survive the stress of rendering service and keeping the ‘home fires’ burning. My parents and their own relatives shared stories of their military service in the Second World War and in Korea and Vietnam. They were brought up to be safety aware – they were ‘safety smart’. Hard-wearing, stout footwear was considered essential to survival. So was a safe path, free of clutter and trip-hazards.

My relatives had lost mates, comrades at arms, and colleagues in the workplace. This was either through the horrors of war or through industrial accidents. Some people, they said, went to work and never came home… They told me their stories as a form of oral history to alert me to the dangers of being out in the world. They said ‘Take care’ and they meant it.

It is with this awareness and understanding that I write about occupational health and safety (OH&S) – and of the importance of road safety and pedestrian safety. Sadly, I can no longer expect that people in public around me and in my workplace have the same sense of personal safety and respect for others’ safety as I was brought up to have.

There has been a generational shift in awareness of public safety issues since the introduction and take-up of the mobile phone technology. I don’t regret the introduction of digital technology but I have noticed the shift in other people’s priorities towards safety and road hazards in particular.

In my experience, others now put their mobile technology as first priority. Remarkably, they put their personal safety as a second priority and others’ safety as a third priority. I might be wrong, but I see a need to review and reflect on the use of mobile technology by pedestrians. Digital distraction is becoming a health and safety matter.

Articles on road user safety are now being published online, particularly via LinkedIn and Twitter. Writer Shelby Lorman recently uploaded an article on LinkedIn on pedestrians and digital technology quoting Buzzfeed. Mr Lorman states that in the American state of Hawaii, the technology distraction matter is now covered by legislation.

Pedestrians texting?
Isn’t pedestrian texting illegal?

As of 25 October 2017, in Hawaii USA, it is now illegal to cross the street while texting on a mobile phone. This means that if a pedestrian really can’t put the phone down, the police in Honolulu will make the pedestrian pay money for their law infringement. The Hawaiian law is designed to protect teenagers from texting and putting themselves and others in danger.

Lorman writes that “…offenders who can’t resist putting their lives in danger to send a text could be fined up to $35 the first time they’re caught, $75 for a second violation in the same year and up to $99 if caught a third time.”

According to Lorman, and Buzzfeed, “Honolulu isn’t the first city to impose legal measures to help keep pedestrians and drivers safe from digital distractions, and it likely won’t be the last. Buzzfeed points out that since 2012 legislation in Fort Lee in New Jersey, USA has banned texting while crossing the street. Offenders receive a $85 ticket.”

Lorman and Buzzfeed write: “This trend isn’t U.S. specific, either: a city in Germany installed traffic lights on the ground to try and get texters to look up, Chongqing, China, has a cellphone lane to keep people with their heads bent downwards away from other pedestrians and we already wrote about a town in the Netherlands trying to literally curb “smartphone zombies” from walking into oncoming traffic.”

As Arianna Huffington, Chief Executive Officer at Thrive Global, an online digital newsletter, says: “The fact that we can’t put our phones down for a few seconds as we cross the road is a sorry reminder of just how far digital distractions have impacted our lives.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2017.
Photo images copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2017.
Uploaded 29 October 2017.

See Shelby Lorman’s article ‘The First Major American City Bans Crossing the Street While Texting’ at