Distracted Walking: The Dangers of Constantly Looking Down at Your Phone - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on October 07, 2015

Distracted Walking: The Dangers of Constantly Looking Down at Your Phone

There’s been a significant rise in emergency
room visits for people saying they got hurt
while looking down at their phones.

Smart phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. We rely on them for staying in touch with loved ones and co-workers alike, keeping up with emails and social media, and generally staying entertained.

As much as smart phones have made aspects of our lives easier and have made it possible to stay connected and up to date on everything going on in the world, they may also pose risks to your health. More specifically, they pose a risk to your health when you’re constantly looking down at your device.

You already know the dangers of looking at your phone while driving, but it’s just as dangerous to look down at your phone while walking. We’re all guilty of doing this and you’ve likely seen others doing it too. Videos have gone viral of people walking, looking down at their phones and walking into walls and tripping into mall fountains. While they’re funny videos, there’s been a significant rise in emergency room visits for people saying they got hurt while looking down at their phones.

And it’s no surprise – when you’re looking down, you’re not as in control of the complex action of walking. Sure, talking on your phone is a distraction, but texting is more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you.

Performance tends to suffer when your attention shifts rapidly back and forth between tasks. Just like drivers using their phones while they’re behind the wheel, pedestrians walking with their phones believe they’re in control. However, psychological studies have reported that people can’t focus on two things at once.

When you’re looking down at your phone and walking, you’re faced with three different types of distractions: manual, visual and cognitive. You’re doing something else, seeing something else and your mind is somewhere else, as opposed to focusing on where you’re walking.

In one study, sensors were attached to people’s feet who texted as they crossed an obstacle course. Researchers in this study found these people moved slower, dragged their feet and wobbled off their path.

Injuries from texting and walking range from facial fractures, nosebleeds, lacerations and foot and ankle injuries from missing steps or walking into telephone poles or even other pedestrians.

Now imagine you’re looking down and their phone while crossing the street. What if a driver doesn’t see you? And you don’t see that driver? Yikes! Tens of thousands of pedestrians are treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. each year and as many as 10 percent of those visits stem from incidents involving cell phones. Unfortunately, pedestrians distracted by their phones have been killed after being hit by a car.

A study found that the number of pedestrian ER visits for injuries related to cell phones tripled between 2004 and 2010, even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period. Although reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated in emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past several years, it’s likely underreported.

So what’s the moral of the story when it comes to texting and walking? It’s the same as the one for texting and driving – put the phone away. Reduce your risk of getting hurt or hurting someone else by simply waiting to check your phone until you’ve gotten to your destination or “pull over” and take a break from your walk to respond to a text. An added benefit of leaving you phone stowed away during your walk? You’ll be able to better avoid all the other pedestrians looking down at their phones.

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