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The Real Dangers of Texting While Walking

While the Internet may be swarming with entertaining video of the plight of distracted walkers, the reality is that distracted walking is a true public safety concern. Over 4,000 pedestrians were killed, and an estimated 59,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2009.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a non-profit organization that represents state and territorial highway safety offices, has reported that pedestrian fatalities increased slightly for the first time in four years in the first six months of 2010. This increase may be linked to another increase- the popularity of mobile gadgets, which has in turn created the risk of distracted walking.

Last year, an Ohio State study revealed that more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 as a result of distracted walking mishaps. This number was double the visits for the previous year. This increase is startling given the fact that overall traffic fatalities have been declining significantly over the past years.

Pedestrians, like drivers, are a unique class of individuals that share the roadways. They include those who jog, walk, hike or even stand. And, just like motor vehicle drivers, they can be distracted by snacking, conversations with friends, mobile phone use, texting, and listening to music as they go. These distractions, in the guise of multi-tasking, could be one of the reasons that pedestrian fatality and injury numbers are on the rise.

Experts believe that distractions, such as talking on a phone, impair cognition and awareness. Studies, such as the one completed by the Psychology Professor Ira Hyman and his Western Washington University students, proved that distracted walkers don’t notice obvious anomalies and as a result may overlook dangers. Thus, they are at increased risk for harm from motor vehicle accidents and other dangers.

Concerns about distracted walkers has prompted some states to consider anti-texting and walking legislation. In New York, lawmakers passed proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1945, that would ban the use of electronic devices, such as iPods and cells phones, while a person, including those walking, running or exercising, is crossing the street.

Highway and roadway safety is not only about vehicles, but about the people who share the public byways. Accounting for about 12 percent of all traffic fatalities, pedestrians also play a role in public and traffic safety. They should be aware that their behaviors may put themselves and others on the roadways at risk.