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Distracted pedestrians pose frustrating problem to world

Posted: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Distracted Pedestrians Are Just As Dumb As Distracted Drivers,” blares a headline on the San Francisco Weekly website.

Old news. Back in my day, a particularly klutzy person was mocked as being “unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.” My mother still laughs about a trip to the Grand Ole Opry some 60 years ago when a member of her group “bear-hugged a lamp post” after turning his head to ogle a pretty girl.

But technology has upped the ante. Our obsession with smartphones, tablets, iPods and other handheld devices has led to more pedestrians smashing into doors, falling into ditches, walking into the middle of traffic and crushing the grocery bags of tough guys who would just as soon cut your throat as look at you.

(Let’s not place all the blame on the ubiquity of earphones and Angry Birds, however. We are also hamstrung by the decision in the California court case of Pantiesinnawad v. Everybody Else, which ruled that “using the sense that God gave ya” is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of church and state.)

According to The Associated Press, reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. Although overall traffic fatalities declined in 2010, the number of pedestrian fatalities rose 4.2 percent.

Several states have tried passing laws to deal with the phenomenon, but the efforts have all died in the legislatures. You can look up the details for yourself. No, NOT NOW! Whew, I could have lost more readers to open manholes.

Many individual cities are launching public service campaigns to make pedestrians more alert, sometimes tweaking campaign slogans to get the point across. (“You didn’t build that — but it still hurt like $#@& when I tumbled off of it.”)

Maybe municipalities could fight fire with fire, by starting the social network FracturedFaceBook. Or rework “Call Me Maybe” as “Call Me An Ambulance.” Or they could borrow a guilt-inducing idea from the weight-watching biz and lay out the relative benefits and pitfalls of divided attention. (“A moment on the screen...a lifetime without a spleen.”)

Let’s not wait for the jurisdiction to be handed over to the United Nations for some sort of “one size fits all” solution, i.e. you can walk while distracted only if reading Muhammad or Chairman Mao. And “your hands will be too full for video games when you’re toting a camel-sized pooper scooper.”

Is society ready for the growing repercussions of distracted walking? Emergency facilities will be strained, insurance premiums will rise and more motorists will live with nightmares of being unable to swerve in time to spare some idiot. And the definition of a traditional marriage will be forever rewritten. A traditional marriage will be one in which the wife dutifully cleans the body cast of her husband, who was struck by a bus while tweeting the specials at Chick-fil-A.

And don’t get me started on the workload placed on animal control personnel. We’ll soon have busy intersections swarming with indignant opossums, eager to jeer the humans. (“Crossing the road isn’t as easy as it looks, huh, smartphone guy? Read any good roadkill recipes? Just then? Oooo, I wish had a keener appreciation of irony!”)

Danny Tyree’s column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.


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