Phones Down, Heads Up! Teaching Teens the Importance of Pedestrian Safety

Safety Corner

The concrete jungle can be a scary place for pedestrians. 

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, unintentional pedestrian injuries are the fifth leading cause of injury-related death in the United States for children ages 5-19. Teens are at a greater risk, with this age group accounting for half of all child pedestrian deaths every year. 

“When kids are young, they are taught to look left, right and left again before crossing the street, and to cross with an adult. As they get older and no longer are with an adult, walking safely goes far beyond looking both ways,” says Lisa Dau RN, BSN, injury prevention coordinator at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children. 

In a study from Safe Kids Worldwide, teens admitted to three unsafe habits:

  • Being distracted by a cell phone or other electronic device.

  • Walking in the dark.

  • Crossing mid-block or running across the street.

Though crossing someplace other than an intersection accounts for 81 percent of child pedestrian deaths, more than one in five pedestrian deaths still happens at an intersection. 

Why? You’ve heard of distracted driving, but with the advent of smartphones and other portable smart devices has come the term “distracted walking.” 

“Distracted walking is when pedestrians are not paying attention to their surroundings because they are being distracted by other means, usually a cell phone or electronic device or even just talking with another person. This distraction puts the pedestrian at a high risk of injury from being hit by a vehicle,” Dau explains. “Distracted walkers take longer to cross the street and are more likely to ignore traffic lights or neglect to look both ways.” 

“One in five high school students crosses the street while distracted,” Dau adds. 

Here, Dau shares some simple steps everyone – from keiki to kupuna – should take to stay safe while out on foot:

  • Walk on sidewalks or paths, and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. Sidewalks can reduce the incidence of pedestrian crashes by almost 90 percent. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible.

  • Look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Continue looking around until safely across.

  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street.

  • Children younger than age 10 need to cross the street with an adult. Every child is different, but developmentally, most kids are unable to judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars until age 10.

  • Encourage kids to be especially alert for cars that are turning or backing up.

  • Teach kids not to run or dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.

  • If kids are walking when it’s dark out, teach them to be especially alert and make sure they are visible to drivers. Have them wear light- or brightly colored clothing and reflective gear.

  • Put phones, headphones and devices down when crossing the street. It is particularly important to reinforce this message with teenagers.

  • Pull earbuds out of your ears, or turn off the volume before crossing the street.

  • Be aware of others who may be distracted, and speak up when you see someone who is in danger.

  • If kids need to use a cell phone, teach them to stop walking and find a safe area to talk.

Driving Do’s & Don’ts 

We didn’t forget about drivers – here are some important safety tips to be aware of when behind the wheel:

  • Put cell phones and other distractions in the back seat or out of sight until your final destination.

  • Be especially alert and slow down when driving in residential neighborhoods and school zones.

  • Be on the lookout for bikers, walkers or runners who may be distracted or may step into the street unexpectedly.

  • Give pedestrians the right of way, and look both ways when making a turn to spot any bikers, walkers or runners who may not be immediately visible. 

“As we become more reliant on smartphones and other devices for everyday tasks and entertainment – such as Pokemon Go – distracted pedestrians put themselves, and others, at risk for injuries,” Dau says. “Taking action against distraction by putting phones, headphones and other electronic devices down when crossing reduces the chance of an injury.”



Published on: August 10, 2016