Police target distracted pedestrians

Toronto police were out in force on Friday, making sure that pedestrians were paying attention to where they walk.
Half of Toronto's pedestrian fatalities this year have involved vehicles turning at intersections. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Toronto police were out in force on Friday, making sure that pedestrians paid attention to where they walk.

Two days after a safety coalition talked about the dangers of distracted driving, officers were targeting distracted walkers.

Sgt. Jack West said it's important to put away that mobile phone or electronic device and stay alert, especially at intersections.

West said of 14 deaths involving pedestrians so far this year, seven involved vehicles turning at intersections.

"This is something that a pedestrian must understand when they're crossing the street: discipline themselves, put the cell phone down to their side, keep their head up, make sure that they're scanning," he said. 

Distracted walking isn't illegal in Toronto, so police weren't handing out tickets. But pedestrians found fiddling with iPods or talking on their phone as they crossed the street could expect a lecture and a pamphlet on safety.

It's a problem south of the border, too.

In the U.S., reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.     

As an April Fool's Day joke with a serious message, Philadelphia officials taped off an "e-lane" for distracted pedestrians on a sidewalk outside downtown office buildings.     

Some didn't get that it was a joke.     

"The sad part is we had people who, once they realized we were going to take the e-lane away, got mad because they thought it was really helpful to not have people get in their way while they were walking and texting," said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.

With files from The Associated Press