Dangers of Distracted Walking

Don't Text or Play Pokemon Go While Walking

Texting While Crossing Street
Texting While Crossing Street. Ben Pipe Photography/Cultura/Getty Images

Walking around while paying attention to your cell phone screen instead of the real world is dangerous. Texting was already identified as a hazard for pedestrian deaths. Add to that the Pokemon Go app bringing a whole new layer of distracted walking hazards.

Distracted Walking Injury Rates Soar

Texting and walking is being tagged as a cause of a spike in pedestrian fatalities in 2015. The Governors Highway Safety Association cites distracted walking as a new factor that may be contributing to this deadly trend.

More and more of us are texting, navigating, and talking on cell phones while walking, and pedestrian accidents are increasing. Ohio State University researchers used emergency room data compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. From 2003 to 2010, the injuries sustained while walking and using a mobile phone doubled and increased as a percentage of the total pedestrian injuries.

The younger age groups and men were more likely to have an injury while using a cell phone and walking. We've all heard mom tell us again and again to look both ways before crossing the street. Parents should also include "screens off when crossing the street!" It's time to review the walking safety rules

While laws take aim at using a cell phone while driving, the injuries reported for distracted walking actually exceeded those of distracted driving in the database.

Texting Walkers Cross Slower and More Dangerously

A study published in the journal Injury Prevention observed over 1000 people crossing an intersection.

Those who were texting while crossing took almost two extra seconds to cross, which is 18% slower than average. They were 3.9 times more likely to display an unsafe crossing behavior. These include disobeying the lights, crossing mid-intersection, or failing to look both ways. More people were texting (7.3%) vs. talking on a handheld phone (6.2%).

Only one in four people observed all four pedestrian safety rules. Interestingly, those who were listening to music crossed a half second faster than average. Jaywalking is the walker's crime

Danger in the Crosswalk

New York City is notoriously lenient with drivers who hit pedestrians in crosswalks. It pays to be a very aware pedestrian in NYC. A whopping 67% of pedestrians hit by autos in New York City were in the crosswalk and had the Walk signal. That statistic comes from the Freakonomics podcast, The Perfect Crime. It isn't safe in the crosswalk. Eyes up and screens down when you cross a street!

Distracted vs. Drunk Walking

A study comparing pedestrian fatalities from 1998-2001 lists "inattentive" as one of the factors, but a minor one seen in only 3% of the fatalities. Meanwhile, the real culprit is alcohol, with 40% of all pedestrian fatalities involving pedestrian use of alcohol according to a 2003 study. But with the massive growth of smart phones since that era, distracted walking is a growing contributing factor.

Races Ban Earbuds and Headphones

Some walking and running events ban wearing earbuds and headphones while on the course in the interest of safety and etiquette. Most have at least a caution that you shouldn't use them on the course, or recommend wearing only one earbud.

As with distracted drivers, people seem as distracted when in conversation with their walking or running buddies rather than when plugged into an iPod. Texting and mobile phone calls appear much more distracting than simply listening to iPods as people are carrying on an interactive conversation.

Screens Down - Hang Up and Walk

People do much more with their phones than just make calls. You may be checking texts and social media alerts or playing games. As a walker, I use my iPhone apps for tracking distance and workouts, maps, taking photos, and to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks. Walking or driving, make sure you are in a safe position before you check your screen.

Jack L. Nasar, Derek Troyer Pedestrian injuries due to mobile phone use in public places. Accident Analysis & Prevention. August, 2013, pages 91-95.

Pedestrian Roadway Fatalities, US Department of Transportation, National Traffic Safety Administration, April, 2003. Accessed June 29, 2014.

Leah L Thompson, Frederick P Rivara, Rajiv C Ayyagari, Beth E Ebel, "Impact of social and technological distraction on pedestrian crossing behaviour: an observational study." Inj Prev Published Online First: 13 December 2012 doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040601.

Richard Retting and Heather Rothenberg, "Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2015 Preliminary Data," Governors Highway Safety Association.

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