I come across stories like this all the time. The subhead announces, “POLICE are warning tech-savvy school students to unplug, log off and look out, amid a surge in pedestrian deaths in Victoria.”

It then quotes a police official: “It’s no surprise to police that with more and more people, especially school students, owning MP3 players, and lots of people walking and sending text messages, that we’re seeing more and more collisions between distracted pedestrians and vehicles,” Insp Parr said.”

The only problem is that among the surge in deaths reported, we are not given exact figures, or really any clue, as to what extent that has to do with distracted pedestrians, as well as what other factors might have been involved. This is not to dispute the idea that a pedestrian acts differently and loses situational awareness when on a mobile device — and this idea should give any driver pause — but we can’t just announce an iPod scare when for all we know the bulk of the rise in pedestrian fatalities may have been due to distracted (or otherwise negligent) drivers (and there are plenty of observational studies hinting at the added risk to pedestrians from drivers on cell phones, a point raised at the Distracted Driving Summit).

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 9:06 am and is filed under Pedestrians, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “iRisk?”

  1. Velocentric Says:

    There’s plenty of distracted street use among all road users. However, licensed vehicle operators should be especially targeted because of the intrinsic authority of the state to regulate motor vehicle operation and most importantly, the much greater danger that motor vehicles pose to vulnerable road users. That said, ordinances prohibiting aural and visual obstructions for pedestrians and cyclists while using a roadway should also be considered. You can’t fix stupid but you can regulate it.

  2. fred_dot_u Says:

    Unfortunately, if one can regulate stupid, one cannot as easily enforce it. Most recent item to pop into my alleged mind is the outbreak of laws banning texting while driving. Sure, regulate it, but it’s not enforceable.

    Similarly, the three-foot passing law requiring motor vehicle operators to give three foot (15 toes) clearance when passing a person on a bike. Unless a law enforcement officer is a witness (and knows the law and cares to deal with it), nothing happens.

  3. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    @fred – we will NEVER be able to fully regulate with laws which have a 100% compliance – there will always be people who break them. However, we can use deterrents to get a higher compliance rate.

    In the 2 cases you mention – if there was an accident, it is provable that laws were broken. Culpability of wrong-doing is as much a part of enforcement as catching people red handed.

    @Velocentric – As a pedestrian & cyclist I sometimes use an MP3 player – I am fully aware that this limits my perception & adjust accordingly. If there was a significant link between MP3s & accidents we would be aware of it. Insurance companies would be shouting it from the rooftops!

    Do you think deaf people should be banned from the roads?

  4. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    I think the MP3 issue is different form the phone one – phones are so much more distracting to drivers or anyone.

    However, being from the UK, I strongly believe in the principle that a motor vehicle driver is completely responsible for their vehicle. We allow (expect) pedestrians all over the roads & strictly speaking they have right of way (& this hasn’t degenerated into walking anarchy before you ask).

  5. doug Says:


    Please tell me you use a mirror while riding a bike with an MP3 player. If not, how do you deal with the huge blind spot to your rear? How do you mitigate not having any idea whatsoever of what is behind you?

    I see people doing this all the time and am just curious.

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