Note: I was originally going to write a few lines merely as an introduction to the video below, but then… this happened… Skip to the bottom if you just want to watch something good, but better yet, read on and leave your thoughts in a comment below!
Texting. More specifically, doing so while you should be doing almost anything else. Is it a big deal? Like most things, it depends on the context. Texting while driving is obviously the worst if our subject is getting from A to B. Distracted driving is on the rise with deadly consequences, and the smartphone is the sweet siren song that many cannot resist.
Texting while cycling is less dangerous as far as killing or injuring someone else goes. Sure, you could kill or injure yourself quite easily, and of course you could even cause an accident that ends up killing or injuring someone else, but that is far more rare than texting while driving, and rare enough to refer to it as rare without putting it in context at all.
Texting while walking? Now things get interesting. With cyclists, you often get people pulling the victim blaming card, as it is quite popular to subscribe to the idea that the most dangerous road users have the most responsibility to bear for the safety of all road users. Hence, even if a cyclist has done something unpredictable, the blame can often get shifted to the motorist. This has a good foundation, but the fact remains that we all have at least some responsibility to ensure that our own actions are safe. With pedestrians, the responsibility tends to shift even further away from those on foot. They are generally always segregated from vehicle traffic and therefore if a car does mount the kerb then blame is easy to assign (though charging the drivers with anything somehow seems a little more difficult…). Perhaps it is simply that pedestrians seem so much more innocent compared to the big, mean cars that hit them.
On the other hand, by the time we are a few years old walking gets pretty easy, and apparently, shuffling along while staring at your phone and making everyone else have to accommodate your wandering about is just as easy as walking at a normal pace while looking where you are going. Annoying, but it’s not going to kill you unless you are doing this while entering a road against traffic, which few people actually do in the grand scheme of things.
The fact remains, however, that sometimes, pedestrians are a danger to themselves and others, sometimes due to risk-taking, but increasingly, due to carelessness and paying attention to their smartphones rather than what is happening around them.
My view? Like most things, there is a time and a place. The busier and more complex the environment, the less appropriate it is to do anything that diverts your attention from navigating safely through it. Confession: I’ve used my phone while walking, cycling, and even driving. I know at the time that it isn’t the ideal situation. I know that I should pull over to do whatever it is that I’m doing because I am aware of the chance that something unexpected could happen while my attention is diverted. I know this. What I also believe, however, is that, for the given situation, my using my phone for whatever it is I am doing is not overwhelming my ability to conduct myself in a safe manner. I believe that I am still in control. I believe that no harm will come of it.
Which is exactly what everyone who has caused or been unable to avoid a collision has believed.
And so, as a society, we continue to believe that using a phone while driving should not be allowed (unless it’s just a quick look and I’m doing it – then it’s ok), that using a phone while cycling is a bad idea either generally or if you’re on the road or a somewhat busy path, and that texting, navigating through social media, or something else that requires more attention and concentration than just talking while being a pedestrian is bad when crossing intersections, and somewhere between being only mildly dangerous and terribly annoying when on the sidewalk.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that at some point pretty much everyone has been guilty of texting when they shouldn’t be. That you get away with it most of the time is all the evidence we need to rationalize checking social media or responding to a text while driving, cycling, or walking. It’s the same with speeding. Just a little isn’t a big deal, right? I only had a couple of beers. I forgot my lights, but it’s not far. I’m tired, but if I just pay attention more I’ll be fine.
Yes, usually, it’s fine. Usually, you don’t hurt or kill anyone. Usually absolutely nothing comes of it. Sometimes, though…
And that’s the difficulty with making laws. Finding that balance between allowing people the liberty of making their own judgements and attempting to prevent some people’s bad judgement from hurting or killing themselves or someone else. We generally tend to favour the former when we apply it to ourselves, but the later when it applies to others.
The reality is that smartphones have most of us by the short and curlies, and if this is you, then Casey Neistat has something to tell you:
Do us a favour: if what you are doing on your phone while walking takes more than two seconds, move aside, stop, and sort it out before someone sorts you out (a man can dream, right?).
Header image: source