The greater Bradenton area has a major pedestrian accident problem, one some have opined is partially due to pedestrians’ preoccupation with cellphones. It’s an argument raised frequently in Florida pedestrian accident lawsuits by blame-shifting defense attorneys eager to downplay their own clients’ negligence.
Now, a new study published in Transportation Research Record has revealed that this may be a myth. In a behavior observation analysis of more than 3,000 pedestrians making their way through congested intersections in New York City and Flagstaff, Arizona, almost 9 in 10 did not exhibit behavior in line with distraction. Most stayed within the crosswalk, and only about 1 in 4 crossed when there was either a “Don’t Walk” indicator or the absence of a “Walk” signal.
This is an important distinction for those of us advocating for improved safety for Florida pedestrians, given that this state has long had one of the worst safety track records for those on foot. Last year, the Bradenton-Sarasota region ranked 10th most dangerous in the U.S. for pedestrian accidents, with approximately 20 people dying each year in Sarasota and Manatee County bicycle and pedestrian accidents.
Downtown Bradenton is particularly perilous because it’s congested with many turning movements. It’s designed with little consideration for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Breaking Down the Pedestrian Distraction Myth
The idea that pedestrians are just as distracted as motorists stems at least partially from the efforts of civil defense attorneys in pedestrian accident litigation. Certainly, all road users — whether motorists or bicyclists or pedestrians — must use reasonable care in navigating Florida streets. But what engineering professors at Northern Arizona University have discovered in their transportation research is that the facts just don’t support widespread pedestrian distraction as the serious problem it’s made out to be.
Meanwhile, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly one-third of drivers self-reported texting-and-driving in the last 30 days. That’s likely lower than the actual number, as it’s going only on the word of drivers. We also have substantial research showing the degree to which phone use behind the wheel can reduce one’s reaction time. Distracted driving is now a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents in Florida, and it’s just as dangerous as driving drunk.