We all know how difficult it can be to do two things at once – chewing gum and walking is one example that comes to mind! But that doesn’t seem to stop many of us when it comes to walking and using our smart phones at the same time. With smart phone technology being so prevalent in our modern society, many of us need to be forced to look up from our screens so that we can focus on the environment around them. Failure to do so can result in injury, including serious injury and in some cases, death.
The issue of walking while texting is one that has gotten much media attention in recent years. We were able to find statistical data tracking injuries attributed to walking while texting going back as far as 2006, with exponential growth in injury numbers from one year to the next in the first few years of available data tracking. This makes sense given the meteoric rise of cellphone usage over the last ten to fifteen years, and with the advent of the smart phone, incoming texts are not the only temptation. Social media notifications, email traffic, even the lure of streaming television shows and video content – all of these things and more are readily available in one compact package, and it can be difficult to pull your attention away.
Different cities across the world have put in place many inventive and unusual measures to try and lower the risks associated with walking while texting. In 2008, London, England introduced a trial program wrapping lampposts in foam padding to cushion the impact when texting walkers inevitably collided with them. In 2014, Chongqing, China, painted designated cell phone use lanes. That same year, the cities of Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia, trialled “geofencing” at various city intersections. When a pedestrian approached a geofenced intersection, their phone received a banner ad targeting the act of texting while walking, prompting the walker to reconsider what they were doing. In 2016, Augsburg, Germany installed traffic signalling lights in the pavement, to catch the attention of pedestrians with their faces pointed down. Antwerp, Belgium installed painted designated cellphone use lanes in 2015, and in 2016, Utah Valley University installed designated “walk”, “run” and “text” lanes throughout its campus.
The above measures are certainly amusing, and it can be a nuisance to contend with distracted walkers as you try to go about your business on a given day. But a simple google search quickly reveals the more dangerous side of such inattentiveness. Walking while texting has resulted in serious injury, required the use of multiple emergency services, creating a drain on social resources, and has ended in the tragic loss of life. The Augsburg, Germany example referred to above came in response to the death of a fifteen year old girl who was hit by a tram she did not see because her attention was focused on texts she was sending and receiving.
The law is not immune to this wave of societal change. Slowly but surely, various jurisdictions are recognizing the dangers posed by walking while texting through the introduction of legislation to impose various penalties upon those who won’t look up. In October 2017, Honolulu imposed a new law making it illegal to cross a street or highway while looking at an electronic device. If caught doing so, you can be fined.
In Ontario, MPP Yvan Baker has introduced a private member’s bill, Bill 171, or the Phones Down, Heads Up Act, that would seek to do much the same, imposing steep fines if a pedestrian is caught looking at an electronic device while crossing the road. That bill has already passed a first reading and is continuing to work its way through the legislative process at the time of this publication.
It is reasonable to think that as we reach the point of true cell phone saturation in the general population these issues are only going to become more – not less – pronounced. The legislative efforts of Honolulu and Ontario are not isolated examples, and it is likely that we will see similar responses in the coming years. And as the law changes, it is also reasonable to expect that injury claims will be affected as well. The legislation of an offence arising out of cell phone usage could feasibly impose a degree of legal fault on a pedestrian, or introduce a new legal defence for the benefit of the driver, in circumstances that would not previously have resulted in such a scenario. Similar concerns may arise in the event of an occupier’s liability claim involving injury arising out of other factual circumstances.
The bottom line is that you are putting yourself at risk if you move through the world with your face buried in your phone. And if you are injured by another person’s negligence while you are busy looking down, it could have a negative effect on any potential personal injury claim you may be entitled to bring. If you are hurt in a motor vehicle/pedestrian accident, or injured as a result of a third party’s negligence in any other way, call one of the lawyers at Wagners for more information today.
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