Texting while walking may result in more injuries per mile than distracted driving, scientists have found.
Consequences of distracted walking include bumping into walls, falling down stairs, tripping over clutter or stepping into traffic. The issue is so common that in London, bumpers were placed onto light posts along a frequented avenue to prevent people from slamming into them, researchers from University at Buffalo in the US said.
“When texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking,” said Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo. “While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you,” said Jehle, who is also an attending physician at Erie County Medical Center, a regional trauma center in Western New York.
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Though injuries from car accidents involving texting are often more severe, physical harm resulting from texting and walking occurs more frequently, Jehle said. Jehle explained that pedestrians face three types of distraction: manual, in which they are doing something else; visual, where they see something else; and cognitive, in which their mind is somewhere else.
Tens of thousands of pedestrians are treated in emergency rooms across the US each year, and Jehle believes as many as 10 per cent of those visits result from accidents involving cell phones.
He said the number of mishaps involving texting and walking is likely higher than official statistics suggest, as patients tend to underreport information about themselves when it involves a behaviour that is embarrassing. Cell phone related injuries have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, coinciding with the rise of smartphones, said Jehle.
With social media so pervasive, texting isn’t the only concern. It’s not uncommon to find a person walking, head down, scrolling through their Twitter feed or checking email, Jehle said. Laws discouraging texting and walking have been written up, but are strongly voted down, said Jehle.
He suggests mobile applications that text via voice command or use the phone’s camera to display the approaching streetscape while pedestrians text.