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Distracted pedestrians and drivers a deadly mix

Nowadays, it’s common to see people shuffling along with their eyes glued to the phone as they text or surf the Internet.

More and more of these “petextrians,” as some traffic safety experts call them, are getting hurt or killed from the distracting habit.

Teens and young adults are more likely to be injured, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. The organization found that one in five high-schoolers was found crossing the street distracted either by texting, video games or listening to music.

If you’re staring at your phone rather than looking out for walls, other pedestrians and cars, it’s only a matter of time before you experience a close call, or get seriously hurt.

Hospitals have noticed a marked increase in the number of injuries from petextrians getting hit by vehicles, because they aren’t looking while they walk. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that ER visits involving pedestrians using cell phones were up 124 percent in 2014 from 2010.

Many of these injuries are more serious than bruises and include strained muscles, dislocated joints and broken bones. To try to combat this, some cities and college campuses have installed “look up” signs in stairwells and intersections. Many petextrians don’t see these signs, however, as their eyes remain on their phones.

Data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in May reported that a pedestrian is killed every two hours in a traffic collision and another is injured every eight minutes – equaling a 2 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities.

Another study from the Ohio State University conducted that distracted walking has caused more than two million injuries in the last few years alone.

Automakers, such as Ford Motor Co., are working on technology to help drivers and pedestrians. Ford’s 2017 Fusion will feature a new Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection system that integrates video and radar technology. Ford has developed a system that can detect a person in the street and predict human movement to assess the risk of a collision.

Ford’s system uses a windshield-mounted camera and radar located near the bumper to scan the road. If a collision risk is detected, the vehicle will mute the audio system and provide visual and audio alerts. If the driver does not react, the system will apply the vehicle’s brakes.

For now, the system only can process information collected in daylight in clear weather at speeds up to 50 mph. Ford’s system soon will be offered on its other models, and other automakers have created similar systems, or are developing them.

No matter how good technology gets, there’s no replacement for an actively engaged driver or pedestrian.

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John Walter is the director of automotive and fleet services for AAA Arizona. He can be reached at