Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Talking on a phone and walking at the same time. Texting while not looking forward. Listening to music and playing a video game simultaneously. These are just a few examples of distracted walking. According to government officials and safety experts, distracted walking is a growing issue.
The Associated Press recently reported that the number of injuries related to distracted walking has more than quadrupled over the past seven years and will continue to increase in the future. As well, there is no reliable data to demonstrate the rise in the number of pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents due to distractions from electronics.
“We are where we were with cellphone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew it was a problem, but we didn´t have the data,” Jonathan Akins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the Associated Press.
As such, officials throughout the U.S. are working on ways to respond to this crisis. For example, highway safety officials in Delaware created a public education campaign that encouraged pedestrians to “look up,” placing signage on crosswalks and sidewalks to remind people to be mindful of where they were walking. As well, officials in Philadelphia are developing a safety campaign that focuses on pedestrians who focus on their devices rather than on the direction that they´re moving.
“One of the messages will certainly be ℠pick your head up´ – I want to say ℠nitwit,´ but I probably shouldn´t call them names,” explained Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities in Philadelphia, in the Associated Press article.
On the other hand, some state legislatures are not for these safety campaigns. In one case, the Utah Transit Authority adopted an ordinance that would prohibit pedestrians from using cellphones, headphones, or other electronic devices while moving across streets or light rail system tracks in Salt Lake City. However, the Utah State Legislature did not want to implement the law statewide and similar distracted walking bills in Arkansas, Illinois, and New York State Legislatures have not been successfully passed.
“Look, I get distracted all the time,” remarked Utah State Representative Craig Frank in the Associated Press article. “I have a smartphone, too. Walking on sidewalks, in stores and malls, and maybe in a crosswalk sometimes I´m using my cellphone. But I try to stay connected to my environment. I never thought the government needed to cite me for using my cellphone in a reasonable manner.”
According to TechCrunch, some researchers even believe that there is a link between distracted calling laws and the increase in car crashes; one study stated that the laws unintentionally caused people to text more.
Besides cases seen in individual states, the effects of distracted walking can be seen throughout the U.S. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 1,152 people suffered injuries due to walking or using a cell phone or another electronic device and had to be sent to the emergency room. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also found that pedestrian fatalities increased by 4.2 percent and injuries rose by 19 percent.
There have also been studies done on the subject. Researchers from the University of Maryland discovered 116 cases over a six year period where pedestrians suffered major injuries or died from wearing headphones. Half of the cases involved trains and two-thirds involved victims who were males under the age of 30 were.
“With the smartphone technology these days and everything at your fingertips, it´s almost getting to be an obsession or a compulsion with people,” explained Jim Fox, the director of system safety and risk management for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, in the Associated Press article. “You see it in airports or train stations or malls – if there´s any kind of downtime, they´re jumping right to that phone.”
Researchers believe that distracted walking is the result of difficulties of multitasking for pedestrians. Past psychological studies have shown that people cannot complete two activities at once and their attention will move between the tasks; as a result, their performance suffers. However, people still try to do multiple tasks because they believe they have control of what they´re doing when, in reality, they don´t. Jack Nasar, an Ohio State University professor, completed a study at intersections on campus and discovered that pedestrians talking on phones were more likely to walk in front of cars than those people who were not using phones.
“I see students as soon as they break from a class, they have their cell phones out and they´re texting to one another. They´re walking through the door and bumping into one another,” noted Nasar, a specialist on environmental psychology, in the Associated Press article. “People think they can do it, that they are somehow better.”