Texting while walking is hazardous to your health

16 December 2012 - 16:25 By AFP Relaxnews
Image: ©Robert Kneschke/shutterstock.com

An observational study has found that almost 30% of pedestrians are distracted by their mobile device when crossing the road.

The study by the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, University of Washington, called "The Impact of Social and Technological Distraction on Pedestrian Crossing Behaviour," published online this week in Injury Prevention, examined more than 1000 pedestrians crossing 20 busy road junctions in Seattle during the summer at different times of the day.

It found that while technology was not the only distraction -- talking to others and dealing with pets or children also increases a pedestrian's chances of not crossing a road safely, people who were texting on their handsets took almost two seconds (18%) longer to cross the average junction of three to four lanes than those who weren't texting at the time. What's more, they were almost four times more likely to ignore lights, to cross at the middle of the junction, or fail to look both ways before stepping off the curb.

Of the 1 102-pedestrian observation group, 80 percent were alone, and 80 percent obeyed the lights and crossed at the appropriate point. However, only one in four pedestrians followed the full safety routine, including looking both ways before crossing. Almost one in three (29.8%) were doing something else when they crossed the road such as listening to music (11.2%), while 7.2% were texting and 6.2% were talking on the phone.

Those who were distracted took significantly longer to cross the road -- 0.75 to1.29 seconds longer. While listening to music speeded up the time taken to cross the road, those doing it were less likely to look both ways before doing so. People distracted by pets or children were almost three times as likely not to look both ways. But texting was potentially the most risky behavior, the observations indicated.

According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 15 people are killed and more than 1 200 people are injured in crashes in the US every day that were reported to involve a distracted driver. And while distracted driving is becoming a greater and greater problem -- according to insurance company State Farm's annual distracted driving report, 48% of young drivers admit to surfing the net via their handset while driving -- the growing popularity of smartphones could lead to an increase in accidents involving distracted pedestrians too.

The authors of the Seattle study, led by Leah L. Thompson, point out that crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians injure 60 000 people and kill 4 000 every year in the USA, and just like distracted driving, distracted walking is potentially dangerous. It's also likely to increase as handheld mobile devices become ever more popular, they suggest.

As the report's authors say "Individuals may feel they have ‘safer use' than others, view commuting as ‘down time,' or have compulsive behaviours around mobile device use. But the experimental evidence indicates that distractions impair awareness of surroundings. Ultimately a shift in normative attitudes about pedestrian behaviour, similar to efforts around drunk-driving, will be important to limit the...risk of mobile device use."