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Do you text and walk? Deadly, distracted strolling is up, polls show

A Seattle pedestrian checks her device while crossing a University District street in Seattle. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/TNS)

SEATTLE — Walkers, listen up: You, too, need to put down your phone while strolling.

Polls have shown we are walking while distracted more than ever, and recent studies indicate that fatal pedestrian accidents have risen 22 percent over the past two years, according to Derek Wing of PEMCO Insurance.

In fact, more than 50 percent of pedestrians in Washington and Oregon who were polled by the insurance company admit using their phone to talk, text or read while on foot.

Why is this important? Well, who has the most to lose in a collision between car and walker? That's right — the walker.

Distracted driving has been in the news as Washington state prepares to roll out a law banning the use of cellphones and other electronic devices in any form while driving.

The law, which goes into effect July 23, prohibits holding a phone while driving. That's because legislators say that the practice is dangerous — and yet also addictive for some — that people need a legal push and the threat of a costly ticket to rewire their habits.

The practice is so hard to relinquish that in a poll PEMCO did last year, two-thirds of parents with children at home and more than 50 percent of all Northwest drivers who were asked admitted to illegally using their phones while driving though they know it's wrong.

"They say they don't think the distraction is too dangerous and they don't believe they will be caught," Wing said.

The new law does not address pedestrians, but Wing said it's worth noting that the June poll showed only 39 percent of the multitasking walkers believe they are distracted, while nine out of 10 drivers report seeing walkers who are not paying attention to what's going on around them.

"The disconnect happens when people who are walking say they're not really distracted and drivers say, 'Yeah, you are,'" he said. "There's been a dramatic increase in pedestrian injuries and deaths in recent years, and one of the things I say is it's everybody's responsibility to be safe."

Last year, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in collisions, about 20 percent more pedestrian fatalities than in 2014, according to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

"This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming," said the report's author, Richard Retting, of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, in a statement.

Recent scientific studies show that humans are not really as good at multitasking as we think we are. The more we do it, the more we think we're good at it, but the worse we become.

So put that phone down and pay attention, Wing said — it's for your own good.

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