Texting and walking is a known danger, but Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo, says distracted walking results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving.
Consequences include bumping into walls, falling down stairs, tripping over clutter or stepping into traffic. The issue is so common that in London, bumpers were placed onto light posts along a frequented avenue to prevent people from slamming into them.
"When texting, you're not as in control with the complex actions of walking," says Jehle, MD, 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 says.
Jehle explains 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.
In his practice, Jehle has seen, first-hand, the rise of cell phone-related injuries.
Tens of thousands of pedestrians are treated in emergency rooms across the nation each year, and 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.
Historically, pedestrian accidents affected children, the intoxicated or the elderly, says Jehle. However, cell phone related injuries have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, coinciding with the rise of smartphones.
And with social media so pervasive, texting isn't the only concern. It's not uncommon to find a person walking, head down, scrolling through their Twitter feed or checking email.
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.
The study also found that the age group most at risk for cell-phone related injuries while walking are adults under 30 -- chiefly those between the ages of 16 and 25.
Laws discouraging texting and walking have been written up, but are strongly voted down, says Jehle. His suggestion: mobile applications that text via voice command or use the phone's camera to display the approaching streetscape while pedestrians text.
Although Jehle prefers that pedestrians keep their eyes off of their phones until they reach their destination, he says the apps are better than nothing at all.
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