Dangers of Distracted Walking

Don't Text or Play Pokemon Go While Walking

Texting While Crossing Street
Ben Pipe Photography/Cultura/Getty Images

Walking around while paying attention to your cell phone screen instead of the real world is dangerous. Texting and other uses of a smartphone while walking has been identified as a hazard for pedestrian deaths, which have increased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2015 and are continuing to rise.

Honolulu, Hawaii became the first city to enact fines for viewing an electronic device while crossing the street in the city and county in October, 2017. You could get a $35 fine for distracted walking there.

Distracted Walking Injury Rates Soar

The Governors Highway Safety Association cites distracted walking as a new factor that may be contributing to this deadly trend.

Texting while walking was cited as a cause of a spike in pedestrian fatalities in 2015 that continued to climb in 2016.

More and more are texting, navigating, and talking on cell phones while walking, and pedestrian accidents are increasing. Ohio State University researchers used emergency room data compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission for a study. From 2003 to 2010, the injuries sustained while walking and using a mobile phone doubled and increased as a percentage of the total pedestrian injuries.

The younger age groups and men were more likely to have an injury while using a cell phone and walking. Most parents tell their kids to look both ways before crossing the street. Parents should also include "screens off when crossing the street." It's time to review the walking safety rules.

While laws take aim at using a cell phone while driving, the injuries reported for distracted walking actually exceeded those of distracted driving in the database.

Texting Walkers Cross Slower and More Dangerously

A study published in the journal Injury Prevention observed over 1000 people crossing an intersection. Those who were texting while crossing took almost two extra seconds to cross, which is 18 percent slower than average. They were 3.9 times more likely to display unsafe crossing behavior. These include disobeying the lights, crossing mid-intersection, or failing to look both ways. More people were texting (7.3 percent) vs. talking on a handheld phone (6.2 percent).

Only one in four people observed all four pedestrian safety rules. Interestingly, those who were listening to music crossed a half-second faster than average.

Danger in the Crosswalk

New York City is notoriously lenient with drivers who hit pedestrians in crosswalks. It pays to be a very aware pedestrian in NYC.

A whopping 67 percent of pedestrians hit by autos in New York City were in the crosswalk and had the Walk signal. A fact that highlights the importance of staying alert even if you are in a walk-friendly zone.

That statistic comes from the "Freakonomics" podcast, The Perfect Crime. Being in a crosswalk is not a guarantee that you are safe. Keep your eyes up and screens down when you cross a street.

Distracted vs. Drunk Walking

A older study compared pedestrian fatalities from 1998 to 2001 and listed "inattentive" as one of the factors, but a minor one seen in only 3 percent of the fatalities. However, note that this data came before the era of smartphones adding to pedestrian inattentiveness. Meanwhile, the real culprit is alcohol, with 34 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in 2015 involving pedestrian use of alcohol, which matches data from the earlier era.

Races Ban Earbuds and Headphones

Some walking and running events ban wearing earbuds and headphones while on the course in the interest of safety and etiquette. Most have at least a caution that you shouldn't use them on the course or recommend wearing only one earbud. As with distracted drivers, people seem as distracted when in conversation with their walking or running buddies rather than when plugged into an iPod.

Texting and mobile phone calls appear much more distracting than simply listening to music, as people are carrying on an interactive conversation.

Screens Down—Hang Up and Walk

People do much more with their phones than just make calls. You may be checking texts and social media alerts or playing games like Pokemon Go. Walkers use apps for tracking distance and workouts, maps, taking photos, and to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Walking or driving, make sure you are in a safe position before you check your screen.

A Word From Verywell

Follow all of the walking safety rules to reduce your risks. Use the sidewalk if it is separated from the roadway. Walk facing oncoming traffic if there is no sidewalk separated from the road. Cross only at crosswalks and obey pedestrian traffic devices. Be predictable in your movements and aware of what is going on around you.

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Article Sources
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  1. City and County of Honolulu. Electronic device pedestrian safety bill goes into effect Wednesday. Updated March 22, 2018

  2. Governors Highway Safety Association. Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2015 Preliminary Data.

  3. Governors Highway Safety Association. Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2016 Preliminary Data.

  4. Nasar JL, Troyer D. Pedestrian injuries due to mobile phone use in public placesAccident Analysis & Prevention. 2013;57:91-95. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2013.03.021

  5. Thompson LL, Rivara FP, Ayyagari RC, Ebel BE. Impact of social and technological distraction on pedestrian crossing behaviour: an observational studyInj Prev. 2013;19(4):232-237. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040601