No, Smartphones Aren’t Killing Pedestrians

Recently there’s been a lot of chat about specific laws against smartphone use while crossing the road, without a whole lot of evidence to back it up.

The Victorian Transport Accidents Commission, ordinarily a stats heavy group, have started a new campaign because they reckon “you see it far too often — people walking along, looking down at their phones.” The Victorian Police, meanwhile, have started a crackdown specifically targeted at phone using jaywalkers, but “did not know what proportion of the deaths were due to distraction.”

Harold Scruby, head of the Pedestrian Council, wants fines of at least $200 because “this behaviour is compromising the lives of pedestrians,” which is quite a strange objection from a man who once deliberately mowed down a jogger in his Mercedes.

So what do we actually know? For context, here’s the results of a Deloitte survey asking Australians how many times a day they check their phones:

It seems reasonable to suppose that checking your phone a lot in general is a good proxy for checking your phone while crossing the road, so if this were the case we would expect pedestrian deaths to have spiked a lot in those first couple of age groups since the iPhone made smartphones mainstream in 2008.

Checking the BITRE fatality data for all Australian pedestrian deaths broken up by these age groups, and those either side, all we get is a downward secular trend and a lot of dead pensioners:

If we zoom in a bit, we see that those aged 18–24 actually had the greatest reduction in pedestrian fatalities since 2008, followed by 25–34:

It might be the case that older phone users need $70 fines to remind them not to cross a six-lane road against lights they’re not looking at, but based on the evidence this all just seems like more misinformed millennial bashing.

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