Steve Chapman

It's easy to imagine other reasons for the recent spike. Unemployment was very high in 2010, and those who are out of work may walk more, to save gas and money. Maybe public transit cuts have forced some riders to take the shoe leather express. Maybe being unemployed makes you more likely to drown your sorrows and stagger into the path of a bus.

Human beings do not always respond to new technologies in predictable ways. It's possible that listening to music or sending messages makes pedestrians less aware of the dangers around them. Or possibly it discourages them from jaywalking or crossing against the light, in unconscious self-preservation.

Laws don't always work as intended. It may sound only prudent to prohibit drivers from text-messaging. But a recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDA) found that in three of four states that imposed such bans, auto crashes increased.

Why? The HLDA says some motorists could be holding their phones down, out of sight of police, to do their texting, "taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time."

But even if gadgets are indeed luring pedestrians toward premature death, a ban would be an enforcement nightmare. How does a cop know if your music device is on or off when you hit the crosswalk? Or if you are talking to someone on your Bluetooth, rather than soliloquizing?

How many cops are going to make a priority of collaring ambulatory electronic addicts? Chicago forbids drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones, and Chicago streets are clogged with drivers talking on hand-held cell phones.

Unfortunately, some people with power lack judgment about its proper limits. Making laws is a bit like being a pedestrian: It's important to know when to go, but also when to stop.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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