When operating a motor vehicle, California drivers are expected to obey all traffic rules and speed limits, to pay attention to their surroundings, and to maintain a lookout at all times for other vehicles and pedestrians. However, drivers may now have to take into account an extra variable to avoid pedestrian accidents: many of California’s youth may be texting while walking.

A new study suggests distracted walking may be responsible for the rise in pedestrian injuries among 16- to 19-year-olds. Notably, this type of accident declined in nearly every other age group.

According to the findings, which were collected by a non-profit organization, the number of teens injured in pedestrian accidents rose 25% in the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, compared with the preceding five-year period. It’s no coincidence that cell phone ownership by teens also dramatically increased in that same period.

In recent posts, we have discussed the dramatic decrease in reaction times of drivers who are texting or emailing while driving. That handicap may be even more pronounced in pedestrians, who aren’t attempting to multi-task the operation of a motor vehicle. Some pedestrians may get so involved in their virtual conversations that they become oblivious to their surroundings.

In California, there is a presumption of right-of-way afforded to pedestrians crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. Drivers approaching pedestrians are also required by law to reduce their speed and exercise due care, as necessary, to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

Although texting while walking may not be the safest practice, drivers must still exercise caution when approaching pedestrians. In addition, many juries will likely be more sympathetic to teenage pedestrians and not hold them to the same standard as adult pedestrians. For all of these reasons, California drivers should exercise extra caution around teenage pedestrians.

Source: USA Today, “Report: ‘Distracted walking’ endangers teens,” Greg Toppo, Aug. 30, 2012