The Hidden Dangers of Texting and Walking

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Across the country, states have made it a criminal offense to simultaneously text and drive. But the danger doesn’t necessarily stop when you open the door of your car and get out. Even if your transportation is just your own two feet, it’s not necessarily safe to be texting. A recent CBS study found that distracted walking accidents are up 4.2 percent. The accidents are more serious, too: Injuries have gone up by 19 percent.

There were more than 1,100 emergency room visits last year as a result of distracted walking. The issue has become so serious that some towns have even made it illegal to text on your cell phone and walk at the same time.

In Fort Lee, N.J., careless walking can get you fined $85. In Utah, distracted walking—but only around trains—could cost $50 in fines. Around the country, there are some stories which may sound comical but could actually end up being quite serious.

A woman fell off of a pier and into Lake Michigan while texting, according to USA Today. Something similar happened to a man in New York City, who fell off of a subway platform and onto the rails, forcing bystanders to help rescue him before a train approached.

In Delaware, the towns of Wilmington, Newark and Rehoboth Beach have placed signs on the sidewalk urging pedestrians not to text and walk simultaneously as part of the “Walk Smart, Arrive Alive” campaign. “LOOK UP,” the signs say in bold, capital letters. “Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.

At first, the increase in pedestrian accidents puzzled researchers. Some original hypotheses attributed the uptick to unsafe pedestrian conditions. These might include wide roads and narrow sidewalks or more general road and traffic design problems.

Others postulated that an increased amount of people were forgoing their car for alternative means of transportation—biking or walking, usually—which led to an increase in the amount of pedestrians. And while it seems apparent that increased pedestrian use of cell phones is a major culprit, there are other factors that, if addressed, could greatly cut down on the number of traffic injuries.

Just under half of all pedestrian fatalities in 2009 involved alcohol use. Over 30 percent of all pedestrians killed by cars were legally drunk. Six percent of the time, the driver was too. But, aside from banning drunk people from walking, there’s little that lawmakers can do to cut down on alcohol-related pedestrian injuries. With cell phones, it’s another matter. As an April Fool’s Day joke Philadelphia officials created an “e-lane” for pedestrians who wanted to use their cell phones while walking. Unsurprisingly, it actually helped.  Some of the city’s citizens reported that it was easier to get around with an e-lane, reported the Huffington Post.

City authorities, like those in Delaware, are drafting a campaign to stop people from texting and walking. Yet even though governments in some parts of the country are tackling this issue, others are still failing to address it. In Arkansas, New York and Illinois, bills meant to curb distracted walking were voted down.