Distracted driving is a recognized major issue on today’s roads, but it may be less commonly known that digitally distracted walking is becoming a big problem as well.
It is no longer a question of whether or not humans can successfully multitask because the increase of accidents involving users paying more attention to a mobile phone than their surroundings have confirmed that they cannot. People are causing needless accidents by failing to watch where they are walking and being engrossed in their phones.
Communication through technology has such a strong allure that it’s causing users to forgo the natural evolution of our brains to concentrate on just one thing at a time, which is formerly known by psychologists as inattention blindness. This phenomenon refers to the tendency of an individual to become temporary “blind” to unexpected stimuli that should clearly be in sight. A study conducted by Stony Brook University found that 60% of individuals who were texting at the same time as walking deviated from a straight walking path.
Texting is not the only issue. Checking social network apps, replying to emails, and simply reading texts all require that a person take attention away from cautiously walking through a crowded and busy street, at least to some degree.
Data by the vehicle insurance company PEMCO reveals that in two years, 32% of car accidents in Washington occurred because a driver was distracted, and 14% of accidents were fatal pedestrian collisions. Rates of pedestrian accidents are climbing. PEMCO also noted that there has been a 25% increase in fatal pedestrian deaths from 2010 to 2015, yet the fatal car accidents during that time increased only by 6%.
There are many solutions that could be implemented to address these increasing rates. Honolulu has a legal ban on texting while walking, and is currently the only sizeable city that has done so; a citation that is non-criminal can be given if someone is texting while in a busy sidewalk or while crossing the street. A city on the outskirts of LA also approved a comparable ban, and London has even installed padding around the lampposts in busy areas to minimize the shock to an individual if a collision occurs. “These actions may be seen as extreme and unproven, however, they do convey the importance of traffic laws. The growing trends are the primary cause for worry, as the numbers and rates of accidents are increasing,” remarked Jason Baril, pedestrian accident lawyer.
Depending on the culture, the action can be unsafe in more ways than just making your attention divided. In Kenya, walking around with a cell phone would be like signaling to muggers that you have a valuable object and are likely an easy target.
Since texting while walking through an intersection can be impolite and cause injury or even death, pedestrians should take more caution and only text when they are still, or at least wait until they are out of a busy crosswalk.