woman texting while crossing street

While most of us are familiar with the dangers associated with distracted driving, there’s another disturbing trend emerging that we should be equally concerned about: distracted walking.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of all adult cellphone users have been affected by a distracted-walking encounter, either because they were distracted or they ran across someone who was. For example, a female tourist in Australia had to be rescued by police in December 2013 when she walked off a pier and fell into the icy waters of Port Philip Bay while checking Facebook on her cellphone. The woman, who was taken to a local hospital for treatment, later told police that she couldn’t swim.

Walking-While-Texting Accidents on the Rise

Health care providers across the U.S. are reporting an increase in the number of pedestrian accidents caused by walking while texting. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has stated that more than 1,150 people were treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. last year as a result of distracted-walking accidents. Although Delaware, Utah, Arkansas, and Illinois have all tried to pass distracted-walking bills, all have failed, according to an ABC News report.

The type of phone used apparently affects the level of distraction, as well as the risk of injury. While some 32 percent of smartphone users admitted to distracted walking while they were using their phones, only 14 percent of non-smartphone users reported similar problems. Sixteen- to 19-year-olds appear to be the most affected, as the number of teens injured in pedestrian accidents rose 25 percent in the five-year period between 2006 and 2010.

Is Multi-Tasking a Myth?

Although we all think we are capable of multi-tasking, the human brain does not allow for texting and walking at the same time. Texting changes the way we walk, because a person is not capable of concentrating fully on two things at once. Instead we are limited to focusing on one task at a time, and when we don’t give that task our full attention, we become distracted.

The fact is, you can walk but not text, or text but not walk, just as you can’t text and drive at the same time. If you’ve gotten away with doing both, you’ve been lucky, but your luck will likely not last forever.

Image by Matthew Kenwrick

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