You may have seen—and laughed at—the Youtube meme of a woman falling into a fountain in a Pennsylvania shopping mall while texting. But as hilarious as this is in the context of an indoor facility, it is part of a more dangerous phenomenon known as distracted walking.
According to an Ohio State University study, a little more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because of distracted-walking accidents. This was double the number of emergency room visits from 2007, which also had doubled from 2006. Moreover, half of the people who were injured were under 30-years old—a quarter of whom were between 16 and 20. Of course there have probably been many more incidents since most aren’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room; distracted walking often results in minor occurrences such as tripping and stumbling.
But walking while talking on the phone, texting or listening to music can have major consequences. NPR cites the case of Joshua Phillips White, a 16-year old who was wearing headphones and listening to music while walking on a train track in Cramerton, North Carolina. He was killed by a freight train that he never heard coming.
And handsfreeinfo.com tells the story of a 21-year-old man in Manhattan who was killed in December because he was listening to music and was hit by a truck that backed into him.
The Associated Press cites a study in which the Governors Highway Safety Association reported in January of this year that pedestrian fatalities increased slightly in the first six months of 2010 compared to the first half of 2009. If the last six months of 2010 show no change, that would mean an end to four years of decreasing pedestrian deaths.
Daniel Lilling, a Dobbs Ferry High School student, agrees that distracted walking is definitely dangerous. He said that he has seen someone trip on a curb twice because they were using their cell phone. He feels that cell phones are definitely distracting.
"[The distraction] has kept [me] away from using my phone more," he said.
On the other hand, fellow Dobbs Ferry student Austin Glickstern doesn't see a problem with the phenomenon. He walks and texts and said that it was "maybe a little [distracting]." He absolutely doesn't feel that walking while texting is truly dangerous.
A study by the University of Birmingham found that students using cell phones took 20 percent longer to cross a street than those not using cell phones. Those crossing while using phones were 43 percent more likely to get hit by a car, and those crossing while using phones looked both ways 20 percent less frequently than those not talking on the phone. An additional study by Peter Loeb of Rutgers University discovered that when cell phones were first introduced in the 1980s, they jeopardized lives—by causing accidents—but could not save victims since not everyone on the road had one. In the 1990s, there were enough phones that they produced a life-saving effect. However, once cell phone usage peaked to 100 million people, they again caused more harm than good.
All these accidents have led to action. New York State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) recognized a problem with the number of pedestrian accidents and has proposed legislation that would make it illegal to use electronic gadgets in the crosswalks of cities with one million people or more (New York City). Kruger has been trying to pass his proposed legislation—which includes a $100 fine for lawbreakers—since 2007. So far he hasn’t had any success.
"You can’t be fully aware of your surroundings if you’re fiddling with a Blackberry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod,” Kruger said in a statement his office released promoting the bill. "Tuning in and tuning out can be a fatal combination.”