The Scourge of Texting While Walking

In one chart.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Jan. 2, 2014, 10:22 a.m.

A fe­male tour­ist in Aus­tralia walks off the St. Kilda pier in Mel­bourne. A Pennsylvania shop­per plunges head­long in­to a mall foun­tain. A ped­es­tri­an falls in­to a Lake Michigan trib­u­tary.

These people are all vic­tims of the mod­ern epi­dem­ic known as “tex­ting while walk­ing.”

The rise of tex­ting while walk­ing and its as­so­ci­ated per­ils have been well doc­u­mented by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, which has pos­ted an ana­lys­is of the situ­ation based on a sur­vey from mid-2012. The find­ings? Fifty-three per­cent of all adult mo­bile phone own­ers have been either on the giv­ing or re­ceiv­ing end of a “dis­trac­ted walk­ing en­counter.” Not to be con­fused with an “il­li­cit en­counter” or a “missed con­nec­tion,” these be­ha­vi­ors are most pre­val­ent amongst the young (in par­tic­u­lar ages 18-24). Those with a smart­phone are es­pe­cially likely to en­gage in said be­ha­vi­or (32 per­cent of users com­pared with 14 per­cent of non-smart­phone own­ers), ac­cord­ing to the study.

Now some towns are go­ing so far as to ban the prac­tice. In Fort Lee, N.J., ped­es­tri­ans can be fined $85 for the sin of tex­ting while walk­ing, and in New York City, law­makers have sought to im­ple­ment a $100 fine. En­force­ment, though, is an­oth­er is­sue.

Nu­mer­ous vic­tims have been moved to speak out on the sub­ject, as did one wo­man in South Bend, Ind., who re­cently fell in­to a river while walk­ing. “I couldn’t let pride stand in my way of warn­ing oth­er people to not drive and text or walk and text,” she said. “It can be dan­ger­ous.”

And The Times is on it. “Let’s stop act­ing like hol­lowed-out zom­bies, with Black­Berrys and iPhones re­pla­cing eye con­tact, hand­shakes and face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions,” film­maker Ca­sey Neistat wrote re­cently in The New York Times‘ op-ed pages. “It’s time to live once again in the present and simply be where we are.”

All Zen ad­vice aside, the best reas­on not to text and walk is one that’s best re­layed by stat­ist­ics. The U.S. Con­sumer Product Safety Com­mis­sion says 1,152 ped­es­tri­ans were treated in emer­gency rooms in 2011 upon be­ing in­jured while us­ing a cell phone or oth­er elec­tron­ic device.

Pew has dis­tilled the haz­ards in a chart. Be­hold, the per­cent­age of cell-phone own­ers in each age brack­et who have bumped in­to something or been bumped in­to by oth­ers who were dis­trac­ted by their phones:

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