Walk, don't text, when you cross the road - and eyes off that iPod, too.
Police and the New Zealand Transport Agency are advising pedestrians against using technology while crossing the road, as research shows that putting mobile devices down can be the difference between life and death.
In a decision made public this year, coroner Ian Smith said earphones and dark sunglasses contributed to the death of Geok Ling Phang, 42, who was killed in 2009 after being hit by a Go Wellington bus while out jogging.
"[It highlighted] the danger of wearing such equipment that would likely inhibit hearing and a loss of possible vision," Mr Smith said.
A United States study by Safekids Worldwide observed 34,000 teens crossing the street, and found one in five did so while distracted. Of these, 39 per cent were typing on a cellphone, while another 39 per cent were listening to music on headphones.
The remaining students were talking on the phone (20 per cent) or using a tablet or game (2 per cent).
Girls were 1.2 times more likely than boys to be walking while distracted. Distraction is thought to be behind a rise in pedestrian deaths in the US, and police in New Zealand want to prevent a similar increase.
"It does pose a risk," acting national manager of road policing Peter McKennie said. "Any increases in the use of mobile technology contribute to that risk. It's just another distraction."
In 2007, the contributing factor "distracted by cigarette, cellphone, music player or any other such device" has been recorded in cases of pedestrian deaths. Since then, eight deaths and 41 serious injuries have been attributed to distraction.
Two deaths were of teenagers: An 18-year-old in 2007 and a 19-year-old in 2010.
Taxi Federation communications manager John Hart said people drifting out in front of taxis while texting or chatting on cellphones was a growing problem.
"It's something taxi drivers have to be constantly on the alert for - around city areas, people honestly just step out without looking. It is a real issue."
Wellington City Council transport portfolio leader Andy Foster said a 2011 study of pedestrian behaviour revealed that a shocking number of people did not look up while crossing the road.
"There was a disturbing number of people who just didn't look at all, for whatever reason. That's just plain dangerous."
And looking at mobile devices instead of traffic was simply ridiculous, he said.
"That's just dicing with being run over."
In an effort to curb reckless pedestrian behaviour, the council has begun to change the phasing of traffic lights, with waiting times shortened to 30 seconds at some lights.
This would be tailored to fit different times of day, prioritising pedestrians at lunchtime and motorists during peak hours.
"It will hopefully make it more likely for pedestrians to wait, instead of just wandering across," Mr Foster said.
A public consultation would begin in November for inner-city speed limits.
NZTA spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said it was imperative for people to stay focused while crossing the road.
KiwiRail advises people to remove earphones or headphones near railway tracks, and never to talk on a cellphone while crossing. Last year there were four pedestrian deaths at rail crossings, the highest since 2004.
IN A WORLD OF THEIR OWN
There's a woman applying her makeup. There's a girl changing songs on her iPod. There's a guy chatting on his cellphone.
All activities that you might be expected to do in the comfort of your home or office - not necessarily while crossing the road.
During a half-hour period between 1.30pm and 2pm, The Dominion Post watched people cross the road at the corner of Willis and Mercer streets.
A total of 22 people crossed while texting or looking at their cellphones. Many did not look up at all, or only briefly, before stepping on to the road, and some did not look up while crossing.
Only one person who was texting while waiting on the pavement put their phone down and looked ahead while crossing.
Another 12 people crossed while talking on cellphones, and many of them strode across without waiting for a signal. A further seven pedestrians were wearing headphones, and one teenage girl was flicking through her iPod while crossing.
One man crossed reading a book, while a woman was applying lipstick. Three people crossed while eating and looking at their food.
Most at least crossed on a pedestrian signal.
- © Fairfax NZ News