For safety’s sake: Pedestrians, put down the phone! Bikers, put on the helmet!


With the pedestrian death toll climbing to scary levels and bike-vehicle accidents zooming up too, individuals may need to take common sense steps to safeguard themselves and not rely on motorists or traffic planners for their safety.

Just as drivers need to put away electronic devices while they’re on the road, so, too, should folks on foot give up risky texting or online browsing on their smart phones while walking, experts say. And, though they may not be keen on them, helmets offer bikers important protections and they should be donned by riders regularly.

And if you’re zipping around on a scooter, your head is even more vulnerable than if you’re on a bike.

The New York Times may make readers guffaw on occasion with its recent section of “Smarter Living” with its yarns on pressing topics like keeping sneakers white or the value of learning simple magic tricks. And news articles in the Tech or National news section on pedestrian or bicycle safety may veer toward the banal. But repetition also may be the proverbial mother of learning.  And the message about skipping texting or other device distraction — whether on foot or behind the wheel — is worth emphasizing. As the newspaper reported:

“We all do this kind of distracted walking, or ““Smarter Living”.” (Yes, this term is really a thing.) The behavior has spawned debates among lawmakers about whether walking and texting should be illegal. Some cities, such as Honolulu and Rexburg, Idaho, have gone beyond talk and banned distracted walking altogether. But we shouldn’t let that reassure us. Last year, pedestrian deaths in the United States were at their highest point since 1990, with distracted drivers and bigger vehicles the chief culprits. So being fixated on a screen while walking can’t be safe.”

It’s little secret that smart phones have become a sort of social addiction to too many these days, young folks especially. Too many employers have made them slavish tethers, so staffers can’t take a lunch or a stroll without work intrusions enabled by e-devices. Forget the device for a day or leave it in a drawer and go without it for a few hours and see whether you’re gripped by FOMO (fear of missing out).

The National Safety Council has warned that, by concentrating on the stroll rather than trying to divide the mind between walking and texting, pedestrians may miss out on harm, as the New York Times reported:

“The council … published a study conducted by the University of Maryland in 2013. It found that between 2000 and 2011, there were hundreds of emergency room visits related to phone use while walking, and the primary cause of injury was a fall. While more research needs to be done on distracted walking, it’s indisputable that walking while texting is less safe than paying attention to your surroundings.”

Cities across the nation also have added a new street hazard for pedestrians and bikers: rental scooters. Transportation officials in Washington, D.C., a metropolis packed with sites to see and no shortage of tourists and visitors, have encouraged this mode of getting around, while also pledging to work to get their users and vendors to ensure the contraptions aren’t abandoned, helter-skelter, as pathway perils.

For bikers, a key way to reduce or avert head harms due to wrecks on the road — whether with scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, pedestrians, or other obstacles or objects — long has been the good old helmet. The National Transportation Safety Board, after studying the evidence, wants helmets required for bike riders in all 50 states, the District, and Puerto Rico, as the New York Times reported:

 “The NTSB said research shows that less than half of bicyclists wear helmets, and that head injuries are the leading cause of bicycling fatalities. ‘If we do not act to mitigate head injury for more bicyclists, additional bicyclists will die,’ the agency’s chairman, Robert L. Sumwalt, said in a statement. Researchers found that helmets reduced the likelihood of serious head injury by 60%, and that in cases where it was known whether cyclists were wearing helmets, 79% of those who were fatally injured between 2010 and 2017 were not wearing them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a report last month that 857 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes last year, the highest number of fatalities since 1990.”

Alas, as has been the case with motorcyclists, a segment of bicyclists isn’t buying the idea of federally or state required helmets, which, they say, in the vernacular, harshes their mellow. Part of the joy of riding bikes or motorcycles, enthusiasts contend, is feeling free, with the wind whipping through the locks. Some object to head gear as ungainly or uncomfortable, as well as costly.

In my practice, I see not only the harm that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by wrecks involving pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks. I’m all for allowing fans of walking or biking not only safety in their travels but also the aesthetic pleasures of tromping or zooming through the good, clean, fresh air. But my partners and I see and know just how serious back and spinal cord injuries can be — for a lifetime — and a few ounces of prevention from a helmet likely would be worth avoiding an ocean of tears from debilitating traffic injury.

Pedestrians and bikers, of course, also need to stay on their politicians, knowing that avoiding distractions and donning safety gear would be just part of sound, comprehensive approaches to street and highway safety measures to ensure our vehicles don’t keep killing us. Dedicated and protected paths for cyclists and walkers make sense, as do appropriate and better lighting and signage. Communities may need to have tough discussions about “road diets” that some may see as slighting King Car and causing inconvenience and slowing for motorists but improving the lot of pedestrians and bikers.

We’ve got a lot of work to do in this area. By the way, pro football has seen a jaw-dropping, dumb, and dangerous way to use helmets — as weapons. The NFL has imposed an indefinite suspension on Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett for pulling off the helmet of a Pittsburg Steelers quarterback and swinging it at Mason Randolph’s head after they tusseled. What was Garrett thinking? That kind of brute action, committed on the street, might send a perpetrator to jail. It should not be tolerated on a football field, especially as part of nationally televised game that surely was watched by many kids.

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