Distractions for pedestrians

Be smarter than your smartphone. Don’t walk distracted


Walking is a popular form of exercise and a great way to get some fresh air and keep fit. It is also a great way to travel for work or leisure and by opting to go on foot we are helping the environment.

Nowadays, mobile phones and particularly smartphones are a main communication method with calls, emails, internet, videos and music all at our fingertips. With various other uses for our phones through accessories and apps, we need to make sure we keep safe and don’t get distracted by these when out and about.

Most people would not use the mobile phone and drive but they do not consider the consequences when using their phone and walking.

Around 23,000 pedestrians are killed or injured every year in Britain, as detailed in police reported accidents, including 5,000 who are killed or seriously injured. Improving road user attitudes and behaviour can help to reduce the risk of being injured on the road.

Whether it is getting directions, listening to music, checking social networks, or browsing the internet, we are more dependent on our mobiles than ever before. This requires us to be aware of the distractions this can cause.   

Age can be a key variable in pedestrian distractions, seeing younger age groups more likely to engage in mobile phone activities, such as messaging and using headphones, when crossing the roads. The distraction and increased road safety risk caused by mobile phones use is however applicable to all age groups.

Take action against distractions

Pedestrians distracted by phone conversations or other activities are more likely to take greater risks when crossing the road.

A way to increase your safety as a pedestrian is not using your mobile phone whilst walking, especially when near or crossing roads.  Studies have indicated that messaging and handheld mobile phones are linked with accident rates and near misses.

With increased accessibility to technology, all pedestrians need to keep safe and alert to distractions which can divert attention away from the environment around them.

Be a safe pedestrian – if you need to use your phone whilst walking, stop, use your phone, then put it away out of sight. Keep focused on where you are going and not on your phone.

Take action against distractions when out walking, especially near roads.

Smart phones and apps

Smartphones offer music, internet, mapping, apps and calls all available whilst on the go. These beneficial features can also be a dangerous distraction when used at the wrong time as they can take attention away from being a safe pedestrian.

When walking, you have to be aware of the environment around you, being able to see and hear traffic.

Only listen to music or audio on your smartphone when you are in a safe environment or have reached your destination. The combination of headphones and music or audio in your ears takes the real life sounds away. This means that you may not hear actions happening directly beside you or sirens in the distance approaching you.

As well as not hearing things, placing focus and attention on operating a smartphone means that pedestrians do not look properly and can fail to judge another persons' path or speeds, which are the main causes of pedestrian road traffic collisions.  If you aren’t paying attention, you are more likely to have or be involved in an accident.

If you walk and are messaging or using apps then you will make yourself vulnerable to other road users.

If you have to use your mobile when walking, please stop and complete your action before progressing.

Take the time to plan your journey and if you have to use your phone or check apps, stop walking, stand in a safe place and check before progressing.

If you want to make your journey on foot safer, put your phone onto silent mode, put it away safely in your pocket or bag, and turn off notifications for calls and messages. Hit the pause button or take off your earphones whilst crossing the road and only listen to music/audio through head phones once you are in a safe location away from traffic.

Be a Safe Pedestrian

It can be too easy to forget the simple things when our mind or attention is on something else like our phone conversation, social media feeds or typing a message or email.  

Try to remember these simple steps to road safety:

  • find a safe place to cross, stop, look and listen before crossing
  • try not to cross between parked vehicles and queuing traffic. But if there is nowhere else to cross choose somewhere where there is plenty of space between the vehicles and nothing stopping you from walking directly onto the pavement at the other side. Check that the vehicles are not about to move off. Walk to the outside edge of the parked vehicles and stop. From here you should be able to see oncoming traffic so you can decide when to cross and be seen
  • cross at a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights if possible. Only cross on the green man signal and always check traffic has stopped before stepping out into the road
  • don’t cross at a bend where you cannot see approaching vehicles and don’t have enough time to cross
  • if there is a footpath, use it. If there is no footpath, travel on the right hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic and keep as close as possible to the side of the road. Be aware of the possibility of larger agricultural vehicles passing
  • be visible to other road users - wear fluorescent, bright or light coloured clothing during the day and reflective high visibility clothing or accessories at night
  • pay particular caution around large vehicles such as trucks and lorries as the driver may not be able to see a pedestrian at certain points, particularly at the front of the vehicle. Always assume they haven’t seen you and wait for them to pass or find a safer place to cross the road. If you have to cross in front of a large vehicle try and catch the driver’s eye so you know he or she has seen you

Be smarter than your smartphone. Don’t walk distracted.

*Information has been gathered from a variety of sources including www.rospa.com and Transport Scotland.

Traffic and Transportation Section

Phone: 0303 123 1015