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Not Just Drivers: Pedestrians at Risk of Injury When Distracted by Cell Phone

Pedestrian Crossing

By now, every motorist should know that texting while driving is a dangerous and potentially deadly activity. While many studies on texting have focused on distracted driving,an increasing number are also examining the dangers of distracted walking. Now, a small study conducted by researchers in New Zealand suggests that texting and walking alters the way people move and could threaten their safety, especially in traffic.

The researchers, who published the study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, asked 26 healthy individuals to walk a straight line for about 28 feet under three different scenarios. In the first scenario, participants did not use a phone. In the second, they read a text message while walking. Finally, they were asked to type a message themselves while walking.

Researchers used a movement analysis system to evaluate how a participant’s gait changed while performing the three tasks. They found those who read or texted walked slower, had less range of motion in their necks and held their heads flexed compared to pedestrians who did not use their phones.

Those who were typing a text message walked more crookedly. All of the changes to normal body position “could pose additional risk to pedestrians navigating obstacles or crossing the road,” the study authors wrote in their findings.

This is not the first time researchers have confirmed that distracted walking is a growing phenomenon. In 2012, the journal Injury Prevention published the findings of a study that showed that participants who texted while crossing the road took 1.87 seconds longer than those who did not. They also were less likely to look both ways before crossing or to observe traffic lights. We all know that it only takes a second for a vehicle accident to change someone’s life forever.

The New Zealand study cited examples of the dangers that texting while walking can pose, including an anecdote of an Australian woman who walked off a pier in December while she was texting. Other sources have noted examples of other cases where distracted walking, including a tragic case from Maryland of a teenager who was hit by a car while texting.

This news is particularly disturbing when considering the fact that pedestrian fatalities were one of the few populations where deaths have increased over the last few years, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. The agency estimated one pedestrian will be injured every eight minutes and killed every two hours.

Several states have enacted laws that penalize people for distracted walking, which is a step in the right direction. But the reality is that law enforcement will never be able to catch all of the pedestrians who are distracted by gadgets, so the responsibility truly lies with pedestrians to stop or wait until they’ve crossed the road before sending or writing a text message.

But as the New Zealand study shows, you don’t even have to be crossing the road to become a danger to traffic. It’s entirely possible that you will just make a crooked beeline into the road – and your life is not the only one in jeopardy.

You’ve heard the saying “Don’t Drink and Drive.” Today, let’s add “Don’t Walk and Text” to our repertoire.