Don’t text and drive. You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? But what about all the other things we try to do while we text. For one, walking. Texting while doing anything is dangerous and we seem to take anything but driving very lightly. Our phones have cut our attention span down to eight seconds (that’s less than a goldfish). So we are walking around with a teeny capacity for focus already, add in an overstimulating cell phone and we’re basically doomed.
In 2017 alone almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States. This number should raise a huge red flag over public highway safety, but pedestrians should also shoulder responsibility by not texting and walking.
Some cities have taken the initiative to stop texting and walking by fining those who do so. Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, is the first major city to ban pedestrians from viewing their electronic devices while crossing the street. If you’re caught on your phone you’re slapped with a $35 fine. Taking cues from Honolulu, Stanford, Connecticut became the second U.S city to adopt the distracted walking ordinance with a $30 fine. Montclair, California followed suit by drafting and passing the same law but with a $100 penalty.
“This is really milestone legislation that sets the bar high for safety,” Brandon Elefante, the City Council member of Honolulu who proposed the bill, stated. His belief supports that pedestrians need to share in the responsibility for their safety. Drivers are not all to blame.
Dr. Alan Hilibrand, spokesperson of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, call distracted walkers “digital dead walkers.” The dangers of being one are endless: falling down the stairs; bumping into other walkers; stepping into traffic. According to a study that was published in the journal Accident, Analysis & Prevention, the number of emergency department hospital visits for injuries involving distracted pedestrians due to mobile phone use in public places has doubled from 2004 to 2010.
Texting while walking is not only dangerous, it’s inconsiderate. I know from experience the rush of frustration when a distracted walker rams into me on the street. This may just be the nature of New York pedestrians, but the person using their phone will almost always shoot me a dirty look as if it were on me to make way.
Walking a straight line seems, excuse the pun, pretty straight forward! Turns out this doesn’t apply to drunk people or texters.
Researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University found out that texting while walking has a huge impact on a person’s executive function and working memory which causes deviations in person’s gait to such a degree that it compromises one’s safety. I.e. walking and texting reduce your walking skills to those of a drunkard.
Researchers from the University of Essex explored the topic of distracted walking further with their study that was published in the Plos One Journal. The participants needed to walk around a course with floor-based obstacles three times; while typing a text message, then while reading a text message and finally, making a call.
While talking on the phone, the participants were looking at unnecessary objects instead of looking at the ground to anticipate the floor-hazard that they knew was coming and they adopted “an increasingly cautious stepping strategy.” While they were typing or reading texts they deviated from a straight path more often.
No one tripped during the experiments because of the cautious walk the participants adapted but Matthew Timmis, the co-author of the research, still believes that engaging with your phone, whether you are typing, reading, or talking, could result in accidents.
Research shows that humans are unable to efficiently multitask.
Multitasking is not as easy as it seems. When we do two things at once, one task usually suffers. Research carried out at Stanford University discovered that multitasking is actually less productive than concentrating on one task at a time. When we multitask, we are really just switching our attention between tasks too quickly and instead of being productive create the illusion that we are doing the two things at once.
Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the University of London multitasking also decreases one’s IQ, a condition one can also expect from people who stayed up all night.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said Earl Miller, a renowned neuroscientist. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
In addition, Clifford Nass, a former professor of Psychology at Stanford University, stated in an interview with the NPR, that people who think they are the best multitaskers are often the worst ones. These are people who chronically multitask and they have trained their brains to think differently in doing so. “People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy,” stated Nass. “They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted…They’re pretty much mental wrecks.”
These studies just further solidify that walking while using your phone is not a good idea.
But by now you’ve probably realized that.
In fact, 78% of adults in the United States acknowledge that distracted walking is a grave issue but only 29% owned up to doing it. And this “it’s not me, it’s you” response can be observed across all distracted walking behavior statistics.
This pervasive mentality makes it a lot more difficult to create awareness of the danger of distracted walking. In order to make a positive change, we must first accept that we do it too rather than blaming others. As they say, acceptance is the first step of healing. Once we can take accountability we can then make a conscious effort to stop using our phones while walking down the street. Even though a couple of cities are already doing their part in helping alleviate the problem, we still have a long way to go before our streets are rid of “digital dead walkers”. If you must make or take a call, step aside or sit down on a park bench and proceed to do your business. By actually stopping, you’ll be doing yourself and everybody else a favor.