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Could “Smartphone Lanes” Reduce Pedestrian Accidents?

Posted on October 23, 2014 to

Potential Solution for Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Crosswalk Injuries

Residents of the Washington, D.C. metro area have access to one of the most walkable cities in the country. Unfortunately, more pedestrian activity leads to more pedestrian accidents, especially when drivers and walkers alike are easily distracted by smartphones.

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians died in accidents, and more than 70,000 sustained serious injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also says that every time a driver or pedestrian goes on a trip, pedestrians are 1.5 more likely than drivers or passengers to die in a traffic accident.

How can we prevent these accidents, especially those caused by distracting hand-held devices? One city in China thinks it might have the answer.

What Can We Do About Distracted Walking Accidents?

While most of our efforts to prevent accidents involve encouraging walkers and drivers to put the phone away, the city of Chongqing is allowing pedestrians to use their phones, as long as they stay in their own lane. For 165 feet of sidewalk in one of the city’s busier sections, pedestrians can choose to either walk in a “smartphone lane”, marked by a cell phone on the sidewalk. Walkers less likely to use their phones can use the lane marked with a picture of a cell phone with a line through it.

Unfortunately, early results are less than promising. Nong Cheng, a representative for the group in charge of the district in question, said that the cell phone lane is, so far, ineffective.

“Those using their cellphones of course have not heeded the markings on the pavement,” Nong said in an interview with the Associated Press. “They don’t notice them.”

Would it Work in Washington, D.C.?

The officials who implemented the cellphone lane in Chongqing actually got the idea from an experiment that took place in Washington, D.C., carried out by National Geographic. For one day, a downtown DC sidewalk had special sections for pedestrians both with and without cell phones. It was part of a behavioral science experiment for the TV series Mind over Masses. Overall, the results were similar. Few pedestrians changed their course to follow the directions on the sidewalk.

Of course, these results were based on behavior observed over just a few days. If we were to adopt these lanes, the population would theoretically adjust to them.

Pedestrian accidents are an increasingly common source of catastrophic and fatal injuries, and even though neither of these attempts solved the problem immediately, it is a step in the right direction. For those affected by pedestrian accidents, an attorney in Washington, D.C., Virginia or Maryland can help you figure what you can do about your injuries and losses.