Giving your teen a smart phone for Christmas? Don’t let them be a ‘pedextrian!’

Many parents will be giving their teens a smart phone this Christmas season.

While this amazing technology has made life much more convenient, it is well known that these devices are also responsible for many distracted driving crashes. What might not be apparent are the dangers that smart phones pose for teens when they are walking — especially crossing streets.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, 50 percent of all pedestrian deaths occur among young adults 19 years old and under. Injuries to older teens have increased 25 percent over the past five years.

Safe Kids studies show that one in five high school students crosses the street while distracted — most while texting or wearing headphones. And, one in eight middle school students are distracted while crossing the street.

In the few seconds that it takes to read or send a text message, taking your eyes off the path ahead can be deadly. Putting the phone away while crossing the street is very important for pedestrian safety, especially teens.

Make sure your teen is aware of the potential dangers of walking while distracted and not looking where they are going.  

While the study showed that listening to music and texting were the top distractions, 39 percent of students were typing on their cellphone while crossing the street, another 39 percent of students were listening to headphones and about 20 percent of the distracted walkers were talking on the phone.  The rest were using some other electronic device such as a tablet.

Research shows that parents have the greatest influence over their teen’s behavior. Parents should take time to talk to their teens about the dangers of distracted walking and review pedestrian safety with their teens, just as they would discuss driving safety.

Parents, as well as teens, should practice these pedestrian safety rules:

  • Stay alert. Don’t be distracted by electronic devices, including smart phones, MP3 players and other devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road.
  • Walk on a sidewalk or path when one is available. If no sidewalk or path is available, walk on the shoulder of the road facing traffic.
  • Be cautious night and day when sharing the road with vehicles.
  • Never assume a driver sees you. He or she could be distracted, under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or just not see you. Also, make eye contact with drivers as they approach.
  • Be predictable. Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections when possible. This is where drivers expect pedestrians.
  • If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area, wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely, and continue to watch for traffic as you cross.
  • Be visible. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flash light at night.

Drivers, parents and teens need to be vigilant in order to reduce the dangers of distracted walking.  Teens are not the only age group guilty of distracted walking, but teens are more likely to be risk takers.

For more information on the dangers of distracted walking visit http://www.safekids.org/take-action-prevent-distracted-walking.

Melisa Rhodes is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent in Van Zandt County.