Rise in pedestrian deaths renews call for iPod bill

 @ibtimes
on January 26 2011 6:30 AM

Rise in accidents stemming from pedestrian distraction has prompted renewed call for iPod bill. New York State Senator Carl Kruger has re-introduced legislation making it illegal to use an iPod, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street.

Music-loving bicyclists and joggers will have to limit their exercise to the local park as vehicles are the ultimate threat to iPod-wearing pedestrians, he said.

Under the bill, anyone caught crossing the street while using an electronic device would be issued a criminal court summons with a fine of $100.

Kruger has been trying since 2007 to ban the use of portable electronic devices while crossing the street. The Senator hopes his legislation will make people more aware of their general surroundings while using an electronic device - and the potentially deadly dangers that lurk outside the deceptive serenity of your iPod.

You can’t be fully aware of your surroundings if you’re fiddling with a Blackberry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod, Kruger said.

Arkansas recently joined New York as the second state to consider such legislation.

In December 2010, a 21-year-old man listening to music blaring through his headphones on a Manhattan street corner was crushed by a Mack truck after he failed to hear the vehicle’s backup signal.

A popular video circulating on Youtube this week showed a woman engrossed in conversation on her cell phone walking straight into a park fountain.

Meanwhile, Arkansas Senator Jimmy Jeffress, who proposed a similar bill as Kruger’s, dropped his plans, according to media reports. Jeffress told the Associated Press he received many e-mails opposing his bill and the proposal didn’t have a chance of passing, but felt he was successful in bringing needed attention to the issue.

The proposed restrictions come on concerns about a slight increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) showed that pedestrian deaths accounted for about 12 percent of overall traffic deaths, a small but significant portion. The progress in reducing pedestrian fatalities lagged in 2010.

According to GHSA, four high-population states with large urban centers - California, Florida, Texas and New York - together accounted for 41 percent of the nation’s pedestrian fatalities in 2009.

Several states noted crash reports or anecdotal evidence of crashes in which distraction was a factor, such as the following from Maryland: “Anecdotally, I hear more stories of peds with smartphones and music players/headphones. It doesn’t show up in the typical crash report.”

Delaware noted: “Though there is no solid data to indicate how large the scope of the problem is, there have been isolated cases to show that distracted pedestrians are becoming an issue…particularly those who walk or run for exercise and may be using headphones while listening to music.”

GHSA reported that pedestrian fatalities was essentially unchanged in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. For the first six months of 2010, pedestrian fatalities increased by seven, from 1,884 to 1,891. If the second half of 2010 shows no change, this will mark an end to four years of decreases.

While the slight increase may not seem particularly alarming, it is a concern given that during this same period overall traffic fatalities declined eight percent, according to the preliminary estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Anyone who travels in a busy city has seen countless pedestrians engrossed in conversation or listening to music while crossing a busy street. Just as drivers need to focus on driving safely, pedestrians need to focus on walking safely – without distractions, says GHSA chairman Vernon Betkey.

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