A 2016 poll conducted by Insights West revealed that 66 per cent of Canadians support legislation that would crack down on distracted walking by banning pedestrian use of cellphones along sidewalks. The results of this poll demonstrate how out of tune Canadians are with the reality of accidents. Distracted walking is not the reason collisions happen on roads—distracted driving is.
Concerns about pedestrian fatalities are influencing various city officials in Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary to consider putting cellphone restricting laws in place. In July 2016, Toronto’s city council even passed a motion asking Ontario to ban texting while crossing the street. No bans have been put in place yet, but there is insufficient evidence for Canadians and legislators to blame the rise in pedestrian cellphone for motor vehicle accidents.
In Ontario, the number of injuries and fatalities caused by unaware pedestrians has remained relatively stagnant in the past 20 years—since long before the introduction of smartphones into Canadian society—whereas the number of accidents caused by inattentive driving has nearly tripled. Lawmakers have paid attention to the rise of accidents caused by the use of cellphones while driving. Every province in Canada has introduced a fine and demerit point system for drivers caught using their phones at the wheel. Fortunately, fines for the use of cellphones while walking have not yet been introduced. The recent poll, while intending to highlight the misuse of new technology as a source of public danger, illustrates the misguided attempts of some Canadians and city councillors to shift the blame for vehicular accidents on pedestrians.
In reality, it is drivers who are the most at risk when it comes to roadway fatalities: In 2014, they made up 50.9 per cent of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, whereas pedestrians accounted for only 15.7 per cent. Being distracted while only in control of one’s body is completely different than being distracted while at the wheel of a four-ton vehicle moving at high speed. A distracted walking ban would be more a reflection of misperceptions about pedestrians being as dangerous on roads as vehicles than a genuine measure to ensure public safety.
If legislators were to ban distracted walking—based on the idea that it causes accidents—it would mean that cities would have to attempt to eliminate every single factor that could possibly distract a pedestrian: Pedestrians would have to stare right ahead and use mirrors to check their blind spots so they never have to turn their heads. No music or headphones could be tolerated. Unless they focus solely on the act of walking, pedestrians would be blamed when they get hit by a distracted driver who is too busy fiddling with the radio and veers onto the sidewalk. Evidently, such measures would be ridiculous, and a waste of public resources.
The very real consequences of distracted driving cannot be ignored in favour of creating useless legislation to fix an irrelevant problem. Instead of blaming cellphone-using pedestrians for vehicle collisions, Canadian legislators must continue to address the issue of distracted driving as a cause of both driver and pedestrian fatalities.