Motor vehicle accidents cause many injuries and deaths each year, but a recent statistic reveals particularly tragic numbers. The latest data from Governors Highway Safety Association shows that car crashes killed over 6,500 pedestrians in 2019 (the most recent year for which such data is available). This is the highest recorded number of pedestrian deaths in more than 30 years.

It is impossible to state the exact reason for this alarming increase, and it is likely that there isn’t a single cause. However, GHSA data does indicate a link between the rise in pedestrian fatalities and widespread smartphone use.

Is inattentional blindness to blame?

Human beings, it turns out, are terrible multitaskers. When a person focuses on one thing, his or her visual perception of everything else drops to almost zero. Psychologists call this phenomenon “inattentional blindness.” Studies on the subject have shown that as many as 60 percent of people who used phones while walking veered completely off-course. Not surprisingly, pedestrians who are distracted by their phones are much more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury.

How to stay safe

The easiest way for pedestrians to prevent injuries is to avoid using their phones while walking. Unfortunately, scientists and lawmakers have had little luck convincing people to put their phones away. For people who simply must use their phones while walking, experts suggest the following tips:

  • Use voice controls as much as possible
  • If wearing earbuds, use them in only one ear or keep the volume low
  • Avoid noise-canceling headphones or earbuds while around traffic
  • Hold the phone up higher (think selfie height); avoid downward-pointed head and eyes
  • Look up from the screen every few seconds to see potential hazards ahead of you

Inattentional blindness poses an increasingly dangerous threat to pedestrians and drivers alike. Until people can learn to pry themselves away from their screens, this problem is likely to continue.