Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fatal Distraction

A young woman was accidentally struck and killed by an arriving train at a train station in Nakano, Tokyo yesterday morning. She was hit in the head by the leading edge of the third carriage as the train was still slowing to its stop at the platform. I'm sorry to hear that someone lost her life, and I'm sure that her friends and family must be devastated. Unfortunately, my sympathy is somewhat tempered by the circumstances leading to her demise.

Witnesses at the scene agree that she was intent on using her mobile phone as she walked to the very edge of the platform, and she either didn't notice the arrival of the train at all, or else severely misjudged its speed and position relative to her.  She very clearly didn't heed the warning announcements about standing behind the yellow safety line. In fact, she wasn't hit by an oncoming train; she was hit by one that was already passing in front of her as she walked into it. Evidently she was so intent on whatever operation she was performing with her cellular phone that she was pretty much unaware of her dangerous situation. She perished not so much out of carelessness as out of fatal distraction.

One of the news programs reporting the incident had a staff member visit the area outside the station, to observe cell phone use there.  They reported that there were "too many people to count" walking while talking on cell phones, and counted at least 10 walking head down, intent on sending text messages, including some who set out to cross the intersection without stopping to check the traffic signals or look for oncoming traffic. They also interviewed several people, including an elderly woman who said she'd been walked into by oblivious people using cell phones, a young woman who admitted to having crossed streets several times without checking for lights or traffic while reading or sending messages, and a 30-ish "salariman" who said he'd nearly been hit a few times while engrossed in playing games on his phone while walking.

It's certainly easy to find pedestrians anywhere around Tokyo (and, I assume, throughout Japan) with most of their attention on their conversations or text messaging. It's quite common to find bicyclists and motorists, including people driving large trucks at high speeds, with most of their attention on their phones. Both while walking and while driving, I've frequently had to swerve or stop quickly in order to avoid people like this; it probably happens to me four or five times a week, on average.

It would be comforting to believe that the woman's death yesterday would at least serve as a lesson, or a warning, to people about letting the phone become so distracting that it presents a danger to themselves and those around them. I very much doubt that will happen though, since everyone seems to think that they are paying sufficient attention to their surroundings, and can successfully and safely "multitask"…it's other people who are oblivious.

I imagine that the young woman who died yesterday believed so, too, before her fatal distraction.


D said...

I'm like you---I doubt that this sad incident will result in any increased awareness of the very real dangers of walking/cycling/driving while keitai-ing. Maybe if the injuries and deaths continue to increase we'll get a lot of signs put up warning of the danger. And everyone will ignore them...

Balefire said...

It's already against the law to use a cell phone while driving, or while cycling for that matter, as I'm sure you know. That doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent, and none of the dozen or so cops that I've seen (in what certainly didn't seem to be emergency situations, judging by their languor)keitai-ing in their squad cars could be said to be setting a good example.