We recently criticized the general lack of attention while driving, but we should have included non-drivers — as in pedestrians — as bearing some responsibility for their own safety.
We’ve all seen the videos of cell-phone users tumbling into fountains or crashing into a glass door. They can be funny, but there’s also a huge “ouch” factor.
The “ouch” gets a lot more serious when a pedestrian whose attention is focused on a phone steps off the curb and blindly walks in front of a car or truck.
Cell phone use and the trend toward Americans buying bigger vehicles, mostly pickups and SUVs, are the primary culprits behind a dramatic spike in pedestrian fatalities. Last year, 6,227 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in the U.S., the highest death total since the early 1990s.
There is absolutely nothing funny, or even vaguely amusing about that statistic. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of pedestrians stuck and killed by SUVs has jumped by 50 percent.
SUVs aren’t the only problem. Pedestrian fatalities involving passenger cars increased 30 percent over that same time period. Experts say the big increase in SUV/pedestrian deaths is because SUVs are bigger, heavier and harder to see clearly out of than most passenger cars.
That seems plausible, but blaming machinery on what is essentially a human error is misleading. We seem to be in the midst of an era in which the easy answer to any question is to blame someone — or something — else.
Rather than pinning the blame on machines, it seems logical to look at other factors that are contributing to the greater risks faced by pedestrians. One of those factors is that more Americans are walking these days, especially going to and from the job in cities where parking spaces cost more than a new car. That is all a function of population growth in specific areas.
But while pedestrians share responsibility for safe behavior, the person behind the wheel ultimately has control of most situations, control that can disappear quickly by driving above posted speed limits, or being distracted while driving.
Which is a bit ironic, in that a California lawmaker is floating the idea of raising speed limits on a couple of highways, but those are places where pedestrians rarely share the road.
Some cities are fighting back, designing strategies to make things safer for pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists. Santa Maria is one of those places, with its downtown revitalization scheme focusing on narrowing mid-town streets, which will discourage heavy vehicular traffic, and widening sidewalks and other venues favored by walkers.
Those are all great ideas, and when brought to fruition will likely save lives. But city planners can only do so much. They cannot, for example, make drivers or pedestrians put down their phones, even with state laws saying drivers must have hands-free setups if they want to gab while driving.
Cell phones are truly fascinating devices, and you can’t visit a public place without seeing people cradling their phones, thumbing in text messages or scrolling through the latest headlines and videos — some of which invariably will show distracted phone users walking into fountains or colliding with closed doors. It’s just so easy to get lost in your phone.
But it’s vitally important that you not get lost in portable cyber space when you are doing your pedestrian thing.
We can’t imagine a single text or phone call that would be worth losing your life. When walking, enjoy the scenery and the person you’re with. Your life will be better for it.