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Liability in a Distracted Walking Incident

Imagine yourself crossing a street and being struck by a passing vehicle. From your perspective, the driver might seem to appear out of nowhere, collide with you, and cause you either temporary or permanent injury. The proper response would seem clear: you file a claim and the driver’s insurance company picks up the tab for any medical expenses and other damages. If only it were always that simple. The fact is that it is just as likely that you could be found to bear some level of fault for the incident, particularly if that driver can demonstrate that the collision was a distracted walking accident.

What is a Distracted Walking Accident?

Distracted walking refers to the situation when a pedestrian’s attention is on something other than his or her surroundings. These days, most distracted walking involves pedestrians focusing their attention on cell phones, tablets, or other electronic devices while walking down the street or crossing at intersections. According to researchers, these distractions impact the brain because they distract it in three distinct ways:

  1. Manual distraction, due to the body being asked to do two separate things at once;
  2. Cognitive distraction, as the mind is forced to think about something other than walking; and
  3. Visual distraction, as the eyes are focused on something other than the surrounding environment.

Distracted Walking: By the Numbers

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) conducted a study in 2015, involving 6,000 respondents.  The findings were more than a little jaw-dropping:

  • 78% of respondents recognize distracted walking as a major concern, but almost all of them believe that the problem lies with other people. A mere 29% admitted that they actually walk while distracted.
  • Roughly 40% of those respondents say that they have seen someone involved in a distracted walking accident. Another 26% admit to having been involved in such an incident.
  • There is also a slight generational gap when respondents are asked about just how serious they believe this issue to be. 81% of adults over the age of 35 cite distracted walking as a serious concern. Only 70% of younger respondents agree with that assessment.
  • Part of that generational difference in opinion seems to have little relation to injury frequency. When accidents like these occur, Millennials under the age of 31 are actually more likely to suffer injuries than their older counterparts.
  • Despite that fact, roughly half of all younger respondents said that distracted walking is more amusing than dangerous.

Other studies have found similar worrisome trends. For one, Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Pedestrian Safety Survey discovered that sixty percent of pedestrians are engaged in other activities while walking. These activities include emailing, texting, listening to their favorite songs, or talking.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission released a report in 2011 revealing that 1,152 patients suffered electronics-related distracted driving injuries that resulted in emergency room treatment.

A 2010 survey found that the number of these accidents had doubled between the years 2005 and 2010, with mobile phones being cited as the most common distraction contributing to collisions between drivers and pedestrians.

Most experts who have studied the issue believe that the statistics actually tell only part of the tale. The real number of injuries that can be directly tied to pedestrian distractions may, in fact, be as much as 1,300 times higher than the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s published estimate, due to the fact that only a portion of people suffering injuries go to emergency rooms.

How Distracted Walking Can Impact Pedestrian Injury Claims

Distracted walking could actually prevent you from receiving compensation in a pedestrian accident if it can be demonstrated that you were on your phone or otherwise negligent. If you were distracted, you will have to find a way to demonstrate that the person driving the vehicle was more responsible for the accident. That would require that you demonstrate that he or she was negligent, either by speeding, driving while under the influence of intoxicants, or distracted and not watching the road.

Keep in mind that distracted walking may not completely bar you from being eligible for compensation, but it will complicate your case. Of course, if you were distracted, chances are that any compensation you receive will only be a portion of what you would otherwise recover. That makes it critically important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to determine your best options for recovery.

What Does Texas Law Say About Distracted Walking?

Texas is one of four states that are responsible for most pedestrian injuries involving distracted walking. While 11% of all traffic fatalities occur in Texas, fully 8% of pedestrian deaths take place in the state as well. That amounts to several hundred pedestrians dying in accidents of this nature every year.

While Texas law does not specifically focus on distracted walking, it does offer some important protection for pedestrians. For example, vehicles are required to yield to pedestrians when they are crossing in intersections where the Walk signal is lit, or when there are no traffic control signals and the person walking has already ventured out onto the roadway. Drivers must also yield when they are going into or coming out of alleys, driveways, and parking areas.

The law also requires that drivers use due care and do everything they can to avoid hitting pedestrians. This includes honking the vehicle’s horn as a warning and exercising special care when children or incapacitated pedestrians are on the road. Blind pedestrians and children receive special protection as well, with the latter enjoying added safeguards in school zones and around schools buses.

Because of the dangers associated with distracted walking, the best way to deal with accidents like these is to avoid them in the first place. Pedestrians can better protect themselves by taking safety precautions and adopting better walking habits. For example, when there is a need to use the phone, the safest option is to stop walking while making a call or sending a text. Avoid using headphones, since they not only distract you but also prevent you from hearing horns or other warning sounds. Above all else, be sure to continually scan your surroundings, especially when crossing any intersection. Your health, safety, and life may depend on it!