August 9, 2012

A PEDESTRIAN, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is “any person on foot, walking, running, jogging, hiking, sitting or lying down.” As a recent NHTSA analysis of 2010 data shows, 4,280 of them were killed in traffic accidents across the country. “On average,” the report says, “a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every eight minutes in traffic crashes.”

What’s especially worrying is that the 2010 data reveal a 4 percent increase in pedestrian deaths from the previous year — the first rise in five years. In more urbanized states, the figures seem to be spiraling out of control. Pedestrians account for 22.1 percent of all traffic-related deaths in California and 25 percent of those in New Jersey. In the District, the figure is a shocking 54.2 percent, the highest in the nation.

No one seems to know what accounts for the uptick, and the data say next to nothing about the increase, either. The Governors Highway Association has said that distracted driving could be responsible, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told The Post on Monday that these figures underscore the need “to share the roads and stay alert.”

If only it were that simple. Although these officials and organizations are right to propose texting and cellphone bans for drivers, such bans are clearly not enough. The officials should also consider measures that would require pedestrians to pay more attention to their surroundings. If distracted driving is an issue worth addressing, so is distracted walking.

Some states have already tried this. Distracted-walking bills — which would fine pedestrians for wearing headphones or using mobile devices in busy urban intersections or public transportation transfer areas — have been unsuccessfully proposed in Utah, Illinois, Arkansas and New York. Other states such as Delaware, one of the most dangerous for pedestrians, have opted for a public awareness campaign, putting up signs that urge passersby to “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”

No one — neither legislators nor pedestrians — seems to be taking any of this seriously, althoughmore than 1,000 people were treated in emergency rooms last year for injuries sustained while walking and talking on cellphones or other devices.

As nannyish as these proposals might seem, they’re not a joke. They could be the only way to save the lives that will continue being lost as people wander the streets ensnared by the contents of a screen.