You’ve certainly heard of the dangers of distracted driving. Distracted walking is the pedestrian version. You might stroll down a busy city sidewalk, paying attention to your surroundings, when you are knocked over and injured by a distracted pedestrian. It’s a growing problem. While distracted walking has always existed, in the past it was a relatively rare phenomenon. Today, it’s virtually a national epidemic, and thousands of people are seriously injured each year.
What is Distracted Walking?
Distracted walking occurs when a pedestrian concentrates more on an outside force than the act of actually walking. The person’s eyes focus on something other than the direction in which they are heading. This lack of awareness can result in severe injuries to that person and others in their vicinity. According to the National Safety Council, 160,000 people required medical attention because of pedestrian injuries in 2013. Approximately 80 percent of cell phone-related injuries involved a fall. Victims were 68 percent female and 54 percent were under age 40.
Pedestrian-related deaths were on a downward curve for the past few decades. After reaching a low point in 2009, pedestrian deaths have slowly but steadily increased. It’s not coincidental that text messaging and smartphones came into common use around this time. While distracted walking usually involves accidents with motor vehicles or other people, distracted pedestrians have also been hurt – or killed – walking into telephone poles, street signs, trees, buildings and other solid objects because they weren’t paying attention. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons warns, “More and more people are falling down stairs, tripping over curbs and other streetscapes and, in many instances, stepping into traffic, causing cuts, bruises, sprains, and fractures,” because of distracted walking.
Honolulu recently became the first major city to ban texting while walking through intersections. The new law goes beyond texting to include the use of video games, laptops and digital cameras. It’s likely other municipalities will follow suit.
Why Are People Walking Distracted?
We live in an age of instant communication. Many people can’t tear themselves away from their smartphones to simply pay attention to where they are going. When reading or texting, such pedestrians lack situational awareness. Texting while walking and smartphones aren’t the only culprits. Those listening to music through headphones block out warning sounds, whether those sounds derive from motor vehicles, bicycles or anyone else sharing the road. Engaging in intense conversation while walking, a human activity since time immemorial also serves as a distraction.
How to Avoid Distracted Walking Incidents
The simplest ways to prevent distracted walking incidents is by not using a cellphone or listening to music through headphones while walking. It’s also crucial to look both ways before crossing the street, walk only in crosswalks, and wear bright, reflective clothing if walking at night. When you’re out with others, it’s perfectly reasonable to talk, as long as you don’t lose sight of where you are and any potential dangers.
Children are the most vulnerable to distracted walking incidents involving motor vehicles, the type of accident most often proving fatal. If you have kids, do not allow them to use mobile devices while walking, and teach them strong street safety skills.
An old car safety commercial advised drivers to “Look out for the other guy.” The same advice holds true for pedestrians. When walking, try to steer clear of persons focused on their cell phones or other digital media. They aren’t paying attention, so you must take special care.