I’ve written many times about the dangers of driving while distracted, whether by cell phones or conversations with passengers. But good grief — now we also have to worry about the dangers of distracted walking!
So many of us walk around with earphones blaring and focused on our smart phones, reading e-mail or sending text messages, that we’re placing ourselves in harm’s way. This problem was detailed in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here are excerpts:
A young man talking on a cell phone meanders along the edge of a lonely train platform at night. Suddenly he stumbles, loses his balance and pitches over the side, landing headfirst on the tracks.
Fortunately there were no trains approaching the Philadelphia-area station at that moment, because it took the man several minutes to recover enough to climb out of danger. But the incident, captured last year by a security camera, underscores the risks of what government officials and safety experts say is a growing problem: distracted walking.
On city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there are usually people strolling while talking on phones, texting with their heads down, listening to music or playing video games. The problem isn’t as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real.
Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.
State and local officials are struggling to figure out how to respond, and in some cases asking how far government should go in trying to protect people from themselves.
In Delaware, highway safety officials opted for a public education campaign, placing decals on crosswalks and sidewalks at busy intersections urging pedestrians to “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”
Philadelphia officials are drafting a safety campaign that will be aimed in part at pedestrians who are looking at their devices instead of where they’re going. “One of the messages will certainly be ‘Pick your head up’ – I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.
A University of Maryland study found 116 cases over six years in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones.
About 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the United States last year for injuries suffered while walking and using a cell phone or some other electronic device, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But that’s likely an underestimate because patients may not mention they were using a device at the time they were injured, said Tom Schroeder, director of the commission’s data systems.