Distracted driving is a well-established problem, so much so that many states have bans in place when it comes to using technology while driving, but the problem of “distracted walking” is a relatively new hazard. Sure, people have been walking out in front of moving objects or stepping off cliffs since the beginning of time, but a new piece of daily-use equipment seems to be increasing the problem – smartphones and tablets. While we might laugh at a woman who falls into a fountain while texting or someone who walks into a glass wall while watching a you-tube video on his phone, the problem with distracted walking is a very serious one.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed and another 76,000 injured in traffic accidents in 2012. While it is not clear how many of these were directly attributed to distracted walking, pedestrian fatalities are getting worse each year, perhaps due to the use of smart phones and other devices.
Common risks associated with distracted walking include: trips, sprains, strains, fractures, cuts, bruises, broken bones, concussions, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, death, and injuries to someone else. People who text while walking are 60% more likely to be injured or cause injury than non-texters. Scientist call the phenomenon, “inattentive blindness”; they state the human brain can only adequately focus on one task at a time. So, when you are texting or talking on the phone and trying to walk, you cannot give full attention to both tasks. Today we hear people brag about being able to “multi-task”, but our brains cannot efficiently provide adequate attention to more than one task at a time.
It’s not just texting while walking that is the problem. Talking, checking email, using social media, even playing games on your phone/tablet all contribute to the problem of distracted pedestrians. After years of decline, pedestrian deaths have started to increase since 2009, and while there is no reliable data directly related to cell phone use, experts speculate the increase is due in part to distracted users of cell phones while walking.
The solution to distracted walking is a simple one: Don’t use your cell phone or engage in other distracting activities while walking. Focus solely on the task at hand – getting from point A to point B in one piece, and worry about checking your phone when you get there.
Other safety concerns for pedestrians:
Traffic signals – Obey traffic signals (whether you are driving or a pedestrian). If the traffic signal is not in your favor do not begin crossing, and look before you begin to cross.
Cross streets at appropriate places - Jaywalking or crossing the road where there is no crosswalk is a leading cause of pedestrian injury. The NHTSA has found that crossing streets improperly accounts for approximately 30% of pedestrian fatalities.
Visibility – It can be difficult for drivers to see those walking at night or in low-light or inclement weather. Wear light colored clothing, walk in well lit areas or carry a flashlight, and wear reflective clothing for added visibility.
Take the time to inform employees of the hazards of distracted walking, share with them the statistics, and create policies to reduce the potential for injuries due to distracted walking incidents. It is everybody’s responsibility to help create a safe work environment.