“The dinner is off,” my wife said, sadly. She was referring to a post-wedding celebration we were scheduled to attend last week. I heard her put the phone down and she came in from the kitchen. “It’s horrible.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Jonny got hit by a car as he was crossing the road,” she said. “He was talking on the phone with his mother, when the line went dead.”
Jonny was dead on the spot. He was just 16. His sister has just gotten married a few days before.
With our busy schedules, we just don’t seem to have time to stop and focus on one thing at a time. In fact, in school and at work, people who can multitask are rewarded for their ability to do more than the rest of us. And texting and talking while on the go is just another manifestation of such skills. Even those naysayers who point out the dangers of such distracted behaviors usually refer only to the stress-related consequences of multitasking. But the real health risk of distractions while walking or driving is serious injury…or death.
The risk of distractions while driving are well-documented. Consider the following:
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 5,870 persons died and an estimated 515,000 individuals were injured in crashes involving driver distraction in 2009. Distraction accounts for an estimated 16% of all fatalities and 21% of reported injuries.
- According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “texting while driving had the highest odds ratio of a serious vehicular crash relative to 16 other activities that draw a driver’s attention from the highway–23.2 times higher than non-texting drivers. When texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for approximately 5-6 seconds.
- A 2006 Monash University study, entitled “The Effects of Text Messaging On Young Novice Driver Performance” found that young drivers who text have sixfold greater odds of a collision. And this is a problem, because according to the American Automobile Association, nearly 50% of teens admit to texting while driving.
On the other hand, much less attention is being paid to using mobile devices while walking. And when it does come up, the results are usually not conveyed as serious. For example, in the recent movie Wanderlust, Paul Rudd walks into a taxicab while using his cellphone. A New York Times article mentions a woman talking on her cell phone who walked right into a truck parked in a driveway. And who hasn’t seen the now-famous security camera footage of the woman who fell into a shopping mall fountain as she was distracted while texting? In all these cases, the victims get up and walk away.
A more serious, but still not fatal accident was reported in a Daily News article about a teen who fell into an open manhole while walking and texting.
But the problem is more serious. Consider the following:
- A study conducted by Ohio State University found that more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they were distracted and tripped, fell, or ran into something while using a cell phone to talk or text. The study also showed that young people were more likely to injure themselves than adults. Half of the people injured were under the age of 30; a quarter of those were between the ages of 16 and 20.
- A study conducted by the University of Birmingham focused on injuries to children using cell phones. The study found that students using cell phones took up to 20% longer to cross the street than children who were not using a cell phone, slow-crossing students with cell phones were up to 43% more likely to be hit by a vehicle while crossing the street, and children looked both ways 20% fewer times when crossing the street while using cell phones. The extra seconds needed to cross the street are often fatal.
- Finally, a recent study from the University of Maryland looked at 116 serious accidents involving people wearing headphones while walking; they found that 70% percent of the accidents resulted in death to the pedestrian. More than half of the moving vehicles involved in the accidents were trains (55%), and nearly a third (29%) of the vehicles reported sounding some type of warning horn prior to the crash.
What Can We Do?
Education is key. Most people are either unaware of the dangers of using mobile devices while walking or don’t understand its seriousness. Don’t believe me? Check out this short video on avoiding injury while texting entitled, “Texting While Walking: Casey Neistat Solves First World Problem.” It’s incredible how glib these “men on the street” respond to the question about whether they think texting while walking is dangerous.
We need to make our kids aware of the dangers of texting and talking while walking. Today, before it’s too late.
It won’t help Jonny or his parents, but it may save your own child’s life.
–Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on the effects of information overload on organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. You can follow him at @dlavenda.
[Image: Flickr user Sean Dawson]