How much havoc does texting while walking wreak?
Hopefully we all know that looking at our phones instead of the road while driving is extremely dangerous, far more so than simply talking on the phone while driving (although that has its risks, too). Operating motor vehicles while paying attention to other things (like maps, food, GPSs and cell phones) is called "distracted driving," and it resulted in 3,328 fatalities and around 421,000 injuries in 2012 in the U.S. [source: Distraction.gov]. But the dangers of similar behaviors while walking are becoming increasingly apparent, and we're hearing more in the news about the perils of "distracted walking."
Distracted walking can encompass other things, like listening to music or talking on the phone, but the most dangerous, and increasingly common, variety involves reading and writing text while walking -- that includes text messaging, e-mail and social media. We should all know better. It takes both your visual and mental attention away from the things around you. You can't very well look both ways when crossing the street while staring at a phone and updating your Facebook status.
But despite the obvious dangers of distracted walking, a recent survey revealed that 60 percent of pedestrians admitted to this behavior [source: Liberty Mutual]. The attention issues aside, another study found texting while walking slows your pace and causes you to veer off course. It also affects posture and balance negatively, making it even more likely you'll walk or stumble into things [sources: Knapton, Sampson, Schabrun].
In this age of rampant cell phone ownership and use, especially that of the ever-connected smartphone, texting and walking injuries are becoming more common, and they range from minor to fatal. It is not clear exactly how many pedestrian fatalities are directly caused by mobile device use, but pedestrian deaths in the U.S. increased from 4,457 in 2011 to 4,743 in 2012, and as a percentage of total traffic fatalities, pedestrian deaths have risen steadily from 11 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2012 [source: NHTSA].
An Ohio State University study showed that cell phone-related pedestrian injuries treated in emergency rooms tripled between 2004 and 2010 [sources: Augenstein, University of Buffalo]. According to a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 1,152 people were sent to the emergency room (ER) during 2010 for injuries caused by using a mobile device while walking [sources: Liberty Mutual, Loth].
In early 2014, Dr. Dietrich V. Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Buffalo in New York, stated that around 15 percent of the 41,000 pedestrians treated annually in emergency rooms in the U.S. have injuries stemming from cell phone use. That comes to more than 6,000. Dr Jehle believed the percentage may actually be higher due to some people being unwilling to admit to mobile device involvement out of embarrassment [sources: Augenstein, University of Buffalo].
Sixteen to 25-year-olds have the highest rate of cell phone-related pedestrian injuries [sources: Augenstein, University of Buffalo]. A 2012 study by Safe Kids Worldwide showed that pedestrian injuries involving 16- to 19-year-olds went up 25 percent over the five years leading up to the report. The organization then conducted an observational study involving more than 34,000 teenagers and found that 20 percent of high school students cross the street while distracted by cell phones, music and other electronic devices. The researchers behind the study believe this to be a major cause of the increase [sources: ABC News, Davies, Safe Kids Worldwide].