Emergency Medicine Expert Warns Against Walking and Texting

Published February 24, 2014

Dietrich V. Jehle, MD.

Dietrich V. Jehle, MD

 

Per mile traveled, distracted walking — including texting and walking — is more unsafe than distracted driving, warns Dietrich V. Jehle, MD, professor of emergency medicine.

 

“While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you, and you’re not as much in control with the complex actions of walking.”
Dietrich V. Jehle, MD
Professor of emergency medicine

In his practice at Erie County Medical Center, the regional trauma center, Jehle has seen the rise of cellphone-related injuries firsthand.

Nationally, of the 41,000 pedestrians treated in emergency rooms each year, as many as 15 percent of accidents, or more than 6,100, involve cellphones, he says.

These statistics, however, likely understate the problem. Jehle estimates the percentage may be higher, as patients tend to underreport information about behaviors they find embarrassing.

Cellphone-Related Walking Injuries Skyrocket

Not surprisingly, cellphone-related injuries have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, as smartphones have proliferated.

An Ohio State University (OSU) study found that emergency room visits by pedestrians for cellphone-related injuries tripled between 2004 and 2010, while the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped.

The diversions inherent in phone activity cause pedestrians to bump into walls, trip over clutter or step into traffic. The issue is so common in London that bumpers have been placed on light posts along a busy avenue.

Studies at Stony Brook University have found that when walkers use cellphones, they veer off course 61 percent more of the time and overshoot their target 13 percent more of the time compared to when they are not distracted.

Dangerous Distractions Are Three-Fold

Distractions take many forms, and popular social media activities pose great risks.

“While talking on the phone is a distraction, texting is much more dangerous because you can’t see the path in front of you, and you’re not as much in control with the complex actions of walking,” Jehle explains.

The same risks apply to walkers engaged in scrolling through a Twitter feed or checking email on their phones.

Jehle cites three types of distractions for pedestrians:

  • manual (they multitask, or do something else)
  • visual (they see something else)
  • cognitive (their thoughts are somewhere else)

Likely Victims Now Under 30

In contrast to historical patterns, those under 30 — chiefly 16- to 25-year-olds — are now most at risk for cellphone-related injury while walking, according to the OSU study.

Until recently, pedestrian accidents have involved mainly children, the intoxicated or the elderly, says Jehle.

Possible Solutions: Legal vs. Technological

Jehle’s best advice is for walkers to keep their eyes off their phones until they reach their destinations.

Barring that, technological features available for mobile devices may be helpful. He suggests using mobile applications that allow texting via voice commands and applications that enable the phone’s camera to guide people.

Unlike texting-and-driving regulations, attempts to legislate safer walking behaviors haven’t gained public acceptance, he notes.

Laws discouraging texting and walking have been drafted, but are strongly voted down, he says.