When it was first reported on the news, it seemed like it was a story for entertainment, and not a serious issue. Yale security police were walking the campus asking student pedestrians to sign a pledge that they would refrain from texting while walking. On the surface, it seems obvious that you would concentrate on where you are going, watching for obstacles, other pedestrians and traffic. But if you research the topic, you will learn that numerous persons sustain preventable injuries each year from “distracted walking”.
We have become a culture dependent on our social communications. As we walk, we might frequently text, tweet, talk on a cell phone or listen to music that might preoccupy or distract us. The Office of Compliance (www.compliance.gov) describes this as a “loss of situational awareness that is similar to that of a distracted driver”. ABC News has coined the term “pedtextrians”.
So how big a problem is this? The American College of Emergency Physicians has issued a warning that texting while walking, driving, biking, or rollerblading can result in serious injury or even death. A study conducted by Ohio State University showed that more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they were distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while using a cell phone to talk or text. Studies have also observed that “pedtextrians” take longer to cross a street, ignore traffic lights, and don’t look both ways before crossing. They also collide more often with obstacles and other pedestrians.
While injuries from texting and driving may be more serious, it is estimated that pedestrian injuries from distracted walking are more frequent. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted pedestrians may have been a contributing factor in 4,200 pedestrian deaths and 70,000 injuries in 2010. In fact, NHTSA reports that in 2013, the number of pedestrian deaths increased to 4,735, one of the few groups of road-users to experience an increase in deaths. It further suggests that the number of injuries may be underreported because people are embarrassed to report an injury from texting while walking. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) has observed a doubling of distracted walking injuries since 2004. As a result, they initiated a public service announcement campaign, “Digital Deadwalkers” that was humorous, but effective.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Many cities have initiated campaigns within local high schools, with slogans like, “It’s Road Safety, not Rocket Science”, “If you text, you’re next” and “Smart phones make you do dumb things”. (In China, they have special sidewalks for those who are using cell phones while walking!)
Prevention is pretty simple:
- Look at your behavior and that of your friends. The concept “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” should apply: “friends don’t let friends walk distracted”.
- Remember basic safety rules when crossing streets: Obey traffic signals and look both ways before crossing.
- Believe it can happen to you! The AAOS study reported that while 78% of those interviewed believed distracted walking was a problem, less than a third admitted to doing it.
- If you must talk or tweet with someone, find a place to stop and focus on the communication and then resume walking.
The bottom line is that injuries from walking are preventable. For more information on this topic, google “distracted walking” online. For District residents without internet access, call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 for written materials.