The Dangers of Distracted Walking

By Briana Vannozzi

A new public health hazard and it’s right in your pocket. Or worse, your hand.

“I think it’s common in everybody even though sometimes I do catch myself — I’m walking, I shouldn’t do it,” said pedestrian Vanessa Graneda.

Distracted walking — using a mobile device while crossing a street or busy intersection. Just take a drive or walk and you’ll see it for yourself. It’s so prevalent Corey Basch, an associate professor of public health at William Paterson University, conducted a study to track it.

“We observed about 22,000 pedestrians so during the walk signal nearly one-third of those pedestrians were distracted by some form of technology. What was really astonishing was that nearly 50 percent of those who were darting out during the don’t walk signal were distracted,” she said.

The most common form of distraction? Something you may not even consider — wearing headphones.

“That obviously inhibits their ability to hear the audible warnings that say, someone driving an ambulance is assuming that anyone in that crosswalk is hearing a warning signal that they’re giving out,” Basch said.

She also found that during a “walk signal” over 5 percent of pedestrians were looking down. And just over 4 percent were talking on the phone while crossing.

It got worse during “don’t walk” — a time that’s already dangerous — eight and a half percent were looking down while nearly 5.5 percent were talking.

“While we were out collecting data we saw instances where one pedestrian would sort of pull another pedestrian out of the crosswalk because they weren’t hearing a fire truck coming or an ambulance coming,” Basch said.

“It happens frequently and it’s just like distracted driving. One minute you’re on your phone and the next minute either you hit someone or someone hits you because you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing,” said ????.

The research was conducted last spring at five busy Manhattan intersections, but Basch says it applies just about anywhere.

“Any search that you do you’ll see cases cropping up all over the country. This is not just happening in really busy places. It’s happening in all different age groups,” she said.

Nationally in 2010 nearly 4,000 pedestrians were killed and another 70,000 injured in traffic crashes. In New Jersey, 435 pedestrians were killed on roads between 2011 and 2013. Those numbers reflect all incidents, not just those involving distracted walking.

It seems harmless enough, you walk and take a look down at your phone. But that was the same mindset about driving and using a cell phone when they first came out. It seems odd you’d need to tell people to pay attention when crossing the street, but as more studies like this one come out with cold hard numbers to the growing problem, Professor Basch believes a campaign to do just that is likely on the way.


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