It’s Dangerous to Cross a Street While Texting Even If You Can Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

Is one of your pet peeves people who walk while on their cell phone and, in their oblivious state, either bump into you or at least cause you to change your path? Mine is (when I’m not the one texting). As annoying as that is, people who text while crossing the street are not just a nuisance; they are putting themselves at risk for injury or death. Vehicle-pedestrian accidents injure 60,000 and kill 4,000 people every year in this country.

Researchers watching 1,102 Seattle pedestrians at 20 high-risk intersections during randomly assigned times found that nearly one in three people crossing the street at high-risk intersections was distracted by use of a mobile device. Only one in four followed the full safety routine of looking both ways, obeying the lights, and crossing at the appropriate point, the study found. Texting was particularly dangerous as texting pedestrians were 3.9 times more likely than undistracted pedestrians to display at least 1 unsafe crossing behavior (disobeying the lights, crossing mid-intersection, or failing to look both ways). People texting also spent more time in the intersection, by 1.87 seconds, or 18%.

The researchers were from Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, which researches how people suffer injuries and what can be done to prevent them. The Center is one of 12 injury-control centers supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the country.

About half of the observations for the study were made in the morning rush hour between 8 and 9 a.m., and just over half of the pedestrians observed were between 25 and 44. Researchers chose the 20 intersections with the highest number of pedestrian injuries during the past three years.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said more than 1,100 people wound up in hospitals or emergency rooms last year as a result of injuries that occurred while they were using a mobile device while walking. Experts believe that this is likely an undercount as patients are reluctant to volunteer this information.

Texting is of course not the only thing that can distract a pedestrian. People distracted by pets or children were almost three times as likely to skip looking both ways.

Female pedestrians, whether distracted or not, were somewhat less likely to look both ways while crossing the street.

39 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers.

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