Dear Ms. Smartphone: A Mom question- do you think it’s safe for an 11 year old that walks to school to have a phone? There are several big streets to cross, and I worry that he will be looking at his phone instead of the road. My son says everyone has a phone and most of the kids do walk to school in our neighborhood. D.D., Tiburon
Dear D.D.: A couple of thoughts on the question you pose. First, congratulations on living in a neighborhood where children can walk to school. Many schools, including the one in your town, have Safe Routes to School programs and you can get more involved with their training. Two communities I know of, Honolulu, Hi. and Montclair, Ca. have banned pedestrians from using phones and earbuds when crossing intersections, but it is not clear that there is much enforcement.
That said, don’t over-worry. Talk over the safety issues with your son and make a ‘compact’ with him to follow the advice from Safe Routes to School. Personally, I would threaten to take the phone away if you find he uses it while crossing streets. Explain that he needs to focus for the full time.
There is a lot of confusion around phones and pedestrian safety. On the one hand, the percent of traffic deaths involving pedestrians has soared from 12% to 16% between 2008 and 2018. During the same time period phone ownership surged, and car safety improved. However, this could be a spurious correlation. Seventy five percent of the pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. It is also known that 32% or more of the ped fatalities are alcohol related. As in distracted driving, it’s hard to get the ‘real’ rate when phones (or marijuana/drugs) are involved.
You are right to question whether kids, phones, and walking mix well. One obvious point is to make safety and phones an everyday lesson, and make it a new discussion point with the November 3 switch to Daylight Savings Time.