Most people are aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Texting, cell phone use, and other activities that take your mind, eyes, and hands away from the task of driving have been shown to make you three times more likely to get in an accident. However, many people neglect the real and serious risk of distracted walking. Not paying attention to your surroundings while walking also puts you at an increased risk of personal injury.
Risks of Distracted Walking
Walking is one of the most natural activities a person can do, so you may assume it is naturally safer than driving, biking, or other modes of transportation. However, your body depends on environmental cues, such as the sound of oncoming traffic and the sight of curbs or other people, to trigger you to react and avoid collisions. Texting, cell phone use, and wearing headphones all separate you from your environment, weakening or even eliminating these cues.
A sidewalk is full of potential hazards. Curbs, utility poles, people, and other obstructions must be avoided to safely reach your destination. If you are looking down at your phone, you are not paying full attention to where you are going, making it easy to collide with the various hazards on the sidewalks. Stairs pose a particular risk; a fall down a staircase can cause serious personal injury.
The most concerning risk of distracted driving, however, is walking in or crossing streets. Pedestrians must be careful to look both ways before crossing streets, and always pay attention to oncoming traffic. Pedestrian fatalities have begun to rise since the widespread use of smartphones, leading experts to believe distracted walking is partially to blame. In 2010, 14% of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians. The number of ER visits from personal injuries sustained as a result of cell phone use while walking has doubled in recent years.
Teens are Most at Risk
Studies have shown that teens are at a very high risk of personal injury from distracted walking. As many as 1 in 5 teens cross the street while looking at their phone, texting, or wearing headphones. Compounding the problem, teens often feel invincible, unaware and unconcerned with the danger they’re in when they don’t pay attention to where they are going. Children and teens are at higher risk than adults of sustaining a serious personal injury if they are in an accident, making this trend especially alarming.
Before giving your child a cell phone, safety rules should be established. Many parents stress the importance of not texting while driving, but they also need to remember to warn children and teens to pay attention while walking. Children should be taught how to properly cross the street, including using crosswalks and signals when available, looking both ways, and continually checking for oncoming traffic while crossing. They should be reminded that cell phones should be put away during this time.
Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk
While it is tempting to text, listen to music, or talk on the phone while you walk, these activities can cause you to lose touch with your surroundings. This puts you at a greater risk for personal injury. It is important that you take personal responsibility for your safety and make sure to follow safe practices when walking and crossing streets. Bumping into a utility pole may be little more than embarrassing, but walking into oncoming traffic could prove fatal. Keeping your head up and your eyes on your surroundings will greatly reduce your risk of personal injury.