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The Debate on Distraction Heats Up


Photo by melissa mjoen on Unsplash

In Toronto, the home of AlertDriving, there is an ongoing battle between drivers and pedestrians (of the metaphorical kind, of course). Whether it is the fight for increased bike lanes or another pedestrian injury or fatality in the news, how to safely share road space is a topic of continuous debate.

This week, the issue of pedestrians using cellphones ignited a new wave of back and forth. The question - should pedestrians be allowed to use their cellphones when walking? The consequences are obvious, with oblivious pedestrians more likely to act in an unsafe manner around vehicles able to do them a great deal of harm. But it also begs a bigger question on accountability. Who bears more responsibility for road safety - drivers or pedestrians?

"In light of the recent ban of cellphones in Ontario classrooms, the discussion of cellphone use and its appropriate times has spread like wildfire on social media. Now, the question has moved to whether or not pedestrians are at fault for not being aware of the surroundings, or whether the blame should lie with drivers who drive recklessly."

Covering the debate, Narcity pointed out that the conversation properly sparked off when a proposed ban on the use of cellphones by pedestrians was roundly criticized on Twitter by former Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat:

"Our council - including the Mayor, has formally asked the province to look into a ban on pedestrians using cellphones - perpetuating the brutal myth that pedestrians are to blame when they are hit by a reckless driver. You cannot fix a problem you refuse to understand."

People on both sides have responded to Keesmaat with their own experiences and opinions. Both sides have serious points to make. Some have pointed out that if drivers are not allowed to text while driving, then pedestrians shouldn't be allowed to either. But others counter that the two are not exactly comparable - cars have the ability to fatally injure pedestrians, not the other way around.

From a safety perspective, that pedestrians should refrain from using cellphones while navigating a shared road space is abundantly clear. Research shows that the ability to multitask when it comes to texting is a myth - when you are looking down at your phone, you are never completely cognizant of what's going on around you, even if what's going on around you is a vehicle travelling 40 mph. But from a legal standpoint, it gets tricky.

Should legislation actually be put into place to ban pedestrians using cellphones, it would certainly be interesting to see what impact it would have on road safety. In the meantime, you can read more about the hot topic in Toronto right now, and people's various takes on a potential ban, here.