What’s the biggest danger to motorists?

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner

We’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Wiltshire, which also took us through busy London. And on three different occasions – in thick, urban traffic – pedestrians walked right out in front of us, utterly oblivious to the danger.

Each one was wrapped up in conversation on their mobile phone and – even after causing mayhem on the roads as I and other drivers were forced to brake hard or steer around them – they carried on as though nothing had happened.

So it came as no surprise that the AA’s latest survey found that 72% of drivers often see pedestrians step into the road when distracted by talking or texting on a phone. The poll also found that 70% of motorists questioned ‘often’ see pedestrians step into the road without looking, while 66% said they frequently saw pedestrians wearing headphones step out into the road.

Apparently, pedestrian phone distraction is most likely in London (reported by 80% of respondents) and least likely in Eastern England (reported by 67%), the South West (68%) and Wales (69%).

According to the AA a US study revealed a three-fold increase in the number of deaths involving pedestrians wearing headphones. It also says that pedestrians accounted for three quarters of the increase in fatalities in Great Britain between 2013 and 2014. Pedestrian fatalities increased by 12 per cent from 398 in 2013 to 446 in 2014, according to Government figures.

AA patrols have also reported an increase in the number of ‘zombie pedestrians’ and joggers oblivious to traffic around them as they cross busy roads. The AA says it is believes pedestrians’ lack of attention may be a factor in some of the 446 pedestrian deaths in 2014. Previous analysis from AA Insurance shows that pedestrian ‘inattention’ could be the cause of 17 collisions each day.

In fact the breakdown organisation has now been through its own insurance claims involving pedestrians, and says that more than half of incidents included causes such as walkers not looking while on the phone, people ‘just walking out’ or ‘looking the wrong way’.

The motoring organisation says it is particularly concerned at reports from patrols of people broken down on the hard-shoulder of motorways, pacing backwards and forwards whilst using mobile phones. It is a worry.

“We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies,” said AA president Edmund King. “Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from ‘smartphone oblivion”.

On our own journey, we ended up wondering who would be to blame had I not hit the brake pedal in time – and we’d collided with one of the phone-engrossed pedestrians suddenly wandering out in front of us. So we scrabbled in the glove box, and plugged in our dash cam back in, just to be sure.

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