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Think it’s safe to type a quick text while walking? Guess again

As many as 15 percent of pedestrians treated in emergency rooms were injured in accidents involving cellphones.


Published February 13, 2014

“When texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking.”
Dietrich Jehle, professor
Department of Emergency Medicine

Texting and walking is a known danger, but Dietrich Jehle, UB professor of emergency medicine, says distracted walking is more unsafe per mile than distracted driving.

Whether bumping into walls, tripping over clutter or stepping into traffic, America’s current diversion is risky. The issue is so common in London that bumpers have been placed on light posts along a frequented avenue.

“When texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking,” says Jehle, who also an attending physician at the Erie County Medical Center, which is the regional Trauma Center. “While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you.”

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.

Studies at Stony Brook University found that when people used their cellphones while walking, they veered off course 61 percent more of the time and over shot their target 13 percent more of the time than when they were not distracted.

Pedestrian accidents historically have involved children, the intoxicated or the elderly, says Jehle. However, cellphone-related injuries have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, coincidentally with the rise of smartphones.

And with the popularity of social media, texting isn’t the only concern. It’s not uncommon to find a person walking, head down, scrolling through a Twitter feed or checking email on their phone.

In his practice, Jehle has seen firsthand the rise of cellphone-related injuries. Of the 41,000 pedestrians treated in emergency rooms across the nation, as many as 15 percent of the accidents involved cellphones, he says.

And the statistics only include those brave enough to admit how they were injured. Jehle estimates the percentage may be higher, as patients tend to underreport information about themselves when it involves a behavior that is embarrassing.

A study from Ohio State University found the number of emergency room visits by pedestrians for injuries related to cellphone use tripled between 2004 and 2010, although the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period.

The study also found the age group most at risk for cellphone-related injury while walking is adults under the age of 30 — chiefly those between the ages of 16 and 25.

Laws discouraging texting and walking have been drafted, but are strongly voted down, says Jehle. His suggestion: mobile applications that either text for users using voice command or use the phone’s camera as a guide.

Although Jehle prefers that pedestrians keep their eyes off their phones until they reach their destination, he says the apps are better than nothing at all.