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Mobiles turn us into wonky walkers

Wonky walkers are a familiar sight – somebody walking across the road while stabbing at their mobile phone. Who has not felt frustrated with the pedestrian who is so captivated they don’t look where they are going?

The fact is more pedestrians died on NSW roads in 2015 than 2014. There were 61 fatalities in 2015, compared to 41 in 2014 – 17.5% of all deaths on the road. Sadly, 17-25 year olds have the second highest risk of death as pedestrians (after older pedestrians, 75 years and over).

Wonky walking

An American academic from University of North Carolina says distracted or “wonky” walking needs to be considered similar to distracted driving. He says walking-related injuries have soared recently. More and more young people listen to music, text and talk on the phone while walking.

Australian researchers in Brisbane interviewed a sample of 211 pedestrians aged 18-65 about using their phones for voice calls or other activities while walking or crossing the road.

They found 18-30 year olds were significantly more likely than 31-44yo or 45-65yo to do this while crossing the road. Of these 18-30yo crossing the road:

  • 32% texted very frequently
  • 27% used the internet very often.

Pedestrians distracted by their mobiles are at increased risk of collisions with people as well as vehicles. They tend to walk more slowly, change direction more often and are less likely to acknowledge others. They also look left and right fewer times, and start to cross before assessing traffic flow.

Distracted or wonky walking is an increasing safety hazard for everybody, particularly young people.

Distracted driving

If people aged 18-30 are distracted by their mobiles while walking, what does this mean for their driving?

Inexperienced drivers, whose driving is not yet automatic, are less able to handle any kind of distraction. A small American study of school age drivers found there were three main types of distracted behaviour while driving. Electronic devices came top:

  • Electronic device use (6.7%)
  • Adjusting vehicle controls (6.2%)
  • Grooming (3.8%).

Authorities are rightly concerned about the risks to young people of using mobile phones while driving, as well as walking and crossing the road while distracted by a phone.

Mobile phone use while driving now carries a penalty of $319 and 4 demerit points, with double demerits during holiday times.

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