We’ve all seen it: that guy walking down a busy street with his eyes glued to his cellphone, thumbs and fingers flying as he sends a text message, completely oblivious to everything around him.
Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s annoying. But all the time, it’s risky.
Thanks to the irresistible temptations of our smartphones, “distracted walking” is an increasingly common occurrence. Unfortunately, there’s also been a rise in distracted walking-related injuries across the country. Each year, more than 1,500 pedestrians are injured – some even killed – as they fall down stairs, get hit by cars, bikes or buses, tumble down embankments, or crash into stationary objects because they’re more tuned into their digital devices than to the world around them.
Common Forms of Distracting Walking That Can Contribute to Pedestrian Accidents
- Talking on cell phone
- Sending or reading a text message
- Listening to music or an audio book
- Playing games on a handheld device
Surprisingly, some studies show that you’re more likely to be injured while talking on a cell phone while walking than texting while walking. This may be because we tend to be more at ease walking and talking, then while driving and thus less likely to stay alert to potential dangers. These findings do not mean, however, that it is safe to text and walk at the same time as auto accidents are not always the drivers fault.
High School and College Students are at High Risk
High school and college students need to be made aware of the dangers of distracted walking as they are particularly at risk for suffering distracted walking injuries. Pedestrian injuries to kids age 16 -19 increased 25% over the past five years, and researchers believe that distracted walking has played a major role. Girls are more likely to engage in distracted walking than boys, but the pedestrian death rate is 1.8 times higher for boys.
These statistics lead Safe Kids Worldwide to study the behavior of 34,000 teens crossing the street in school zones. In a report released in August 2013, Safe Kids found that 39% of those kids observed were texting, 39% were wearing headphones, 20% were talking on the phone, and 2% were using a handheld tablet or game.
The report also noted that students near traffic lights were more likely to be distracted than those that were not, presumably because the students near traffic lights assumed the surroundings to be safer and needing less attention.
How to reduce distracted walking accidents
Mobile devices are here to stay and it’s pretty unrealistic that everyone, particularly young students, will stop talking on the phone or listening to music while walking down the street. Nonetheless, distracted walking accidents can be prevented by taking a few simple steps:
- Wait to text, talk or play. We live in a world of instant gratification but for safety’s sake, train yourself to text or talk on the phone only when you’re standing still. Believe it or not, the world will not crumble if you cross a street without checking your email!
- Turn down the volume. When we listen to music on the go, we tend to turn the volume up high to drown out the sounds of the city. But this increases the risk that we won’t hear a horn blowing or notice other auditory clues alerting us to danger. Keep your volume at a moderate level so that you can remain attuned to the world around you.
- Set a good example for kids. Children should be taught safe walking habits early. Just as you teach your children to look both ways before crossing a street, you should teach children that talking on a cell phone, texting, or playing games should only take place when you’re stationary. The best way to teach children this is by adhering to these rules yourself and by pointing out dangerous behaviors in others.
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photo credit: Some rights reserved by Edward Allen L. Lim
photo credit: Some rights reserved by -Tripp-