Look Out: Texting and Walking is Dangerous

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — April 08, 2014

Texting and driving is a known danger, and most states have laws prohibiting it. But what about texting and walking? Is it just embarrassing when you bump into someone on a tradeshow floor or nearly hit the wall in the train station on your commute?

No, it’s actually dangerous, according to Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo.

He says that distracted walking actually results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving. In a recent release, Jehle states that injuries from texting and walking are on the rise. And consequences include bumping into walls, falling down stairs, tripping over clutter or stepping into traffic. The issue is so common, he points out, that in London, starting back in 2008, bumpers were placed onto light posts along a frequented avenue to prevent people from slamming into them.

Your Mind is Elsewhere
“When texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking,” says Jehle, who is also an attending physician at Erie County Medical Center, a regional trauma center in Western New York. “While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you.”

Though injuries from car accidents involving texting are often more severe, physical harm resulting from texting and walking occurs more frequently. 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.

A study at Stony Brook University found that when people used their cell phones while walking, they veered off course 61%  more and overshot their target 13% more than when they were not distracted.

In his practice, Jehle has seen, these injuries first hand. Out of the many thousands of pedestrians who are treated in emergency rooms across the country each year, Jehle believes as many as 10% percent of those visits result from accidents involving cell phones. He says 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 behavior that is embarrassing.

On the Rise
A study from Ohio State University found that the number of pedestrian ER visits for injuries related to cell phones tripled between 2004 and 2010 — even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period.

Laws discouraging texting and walking have been written up, but are strongly voted down, says Jehle. He has one workaround: mobile apps that text via voice command or using the phone's camera to display the approaching streetscape while walking and texting.

Apple Ahead
Perhaps Jehle is also a clairvoyant, because on March 27 Apple filed an application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for “Transparent Texting.” There are 21 claims listed in the application with the abstract being: “An electronic communication device's camera can continuously capture and present video images as a background within a text messaging session currently being displayed by the device. The camera can be a rear-facing camera on the device, so that the video images represent the views that the device's user would see if the device's display were transparent. The camera can continuously capture and present the video images as the background in the text messaging session, so that the device's user continuously can be aware of the environment beyond the device's display while still focusing on the text messages being communicated. The background within the text messaging session can continuously be a live and current video image of the view seen by the camera at any given moment. Consequently, the device's user is less likely to collide with or stumble over an object while participating in a text messaging session.”

Still, Jehle prefers that users keep their eyes off of their phones until they reach their destination.

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