Smartphones, Earphones Increase Risks for Pedestrians

      November 07, 2014 08:19

      Smartphones have become indispensable to many in their daily lives, but this dependency has also made pedestrians more vulnerable to traffic accidents.

      According to a study by the Korea Transportation Safety Authority and Hyundai Marine and Fire Insurance, the number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians who are on their smartphones rose 90 percent over a three-year period. In 2009, there were 437 accidents involving pedestrians distracted by their smartphones, but in 2012 there were 848.

      Kang Bok-soon of Gangnam police said, "Ten years ago, children, drunk people or senior citizens were the most common victims of traffic accidents, but recently a lot of them are people between 20 and 40 who are hit crossing the street because they're engrossed in their phone."

      Kim Min-shik, a professor at Yonsei University, said, "Smartphones not only require visual and auditory focus but also the use of hands, which restricts a person's awareness of potential threats."

      According to the KTSA, people normally have a field of vision of 120 to 150 degrees, but that narrows to just 20 degrees when using a smartphone. Walking while listening to music through earphones makes it difficult for pedestrians to hear cars or horns.

      Using a smartphone while walking increases the risk of getting into traffic accidents by an estimated 76 percent. A KTSA spokesman said, "Using a phone while driving raises the risk of an accident 2.8 times, and sending text messages while behind the wheel boosts the chances of accident 23.2 times."

      A study by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that sending text messages while driving is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. It is no coincidence that Korea, where the smartphone penetration rate stands at around 90 percent, boasts some of the highest rate of traffic accidents involving pedestrians in the world.

      In 2011, pedestrian deaths accounted for 39.1 percent of all traffic fatalities in Korea, the most in the OECD. Norway had the lowest rate of pedestrian deaths at 10.1 percent and the OECD average was 18.8 percent. A total of 3,071 traffic accidents over the last six years involved distracted drivers, more than the number of accidents caused by speeding (2,892) and dozing off (2,783).

      Accidents caused by distracted drivers hovered at around 300 a year until 2010 but more than doubled from 2011 to 2013 to 721 a year on average. The increase coincides exactly with the spread of smartphones.

      Traffic laws were tightened in February this year prohibiting drivers from watching TV on their navigation devices while on the road. Violators face a W60,000-70,000 fine (US$1=W1,057).

      But many drivers still illegally tamper with their navigation devices to enable TV broadcasts on the move. Park Cheon-soo at the Samsung Traffic Safety Research Institute said, "Smartphones have made our lives more comfortable, but they have also increased the safety hazards we face."

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