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Picture it, a person is walking on a sidewalk, head down, smart phone in hand, and then at the last minute looks up just before bumping into someone or walking into a street fixture. In today’s technology-driven world, smart phones and social media have become the norm in society. Smart phones allow people to constantly receive messages and phone calls from friends and family as well as stay up-to-date on the latest news and happenings. However, these devices have also found a permanent place in many people’s hands, creating a cause for concern for safety.

How many times have you looked around and seen people texting and walking? It has become a common sight in all sorts of places ranging from office buildings to shopping centers; however, the worst and probably most common place has become the sidewalk. People now feel compelled to check e-mails, schedule appointments, and update social media statuses all while walking en route to their destinations. This type of behavior has caught the attention of transportation planners due to the increased number of pedestrian/vehicle collisions that have occurred in recent years.

The Problem

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Texting and walking may seem like an easy task. However, a 2012 study conducted by a team of researchers at Stony Brook University has proved otherwise. The study found that participants who texted while walking veered away from their straight path destination by a 60 percent deviation, thus increasing their distance traveled by about 13 percent. Participants also took about 33 percent longer to reach their destinations while walking and texting.  Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham found that children who walk while texting or talking on a cellphone are 40 percent more likely to get hit by an automobile due to their delayed reaction times and inattentiveness to traffic while crossing streets.

If you still do not believe that texting and walking is a cause of concern there are several stories that have recently been in the news involving texting and walking incidents including a woman walking off of a pier while updating Facebook and another woman walking directly into an icy canal while texting.

 ‘Mobile Motorway’: The Solution?

The City of London, England has taken to padding lamp posts to keep texters safer.

In 2007, the number of “texting while walking injuries” in Britain included a reported 68,000! Reported injuries included collisions with other people, lampposts, and even garbage bins. Injuries ranged from mild cuts and bruises all the way up to broken noses. Many people went so far as to claim that the injuries were more because of the “high concentration of street fixtures” and not the obvious reason: texting while walking and not paying attention.

Britain’s Brick Lane decided that it had seen enough of these injuries and wanted to do something about it. Thus, the world’s first ‘Safe Text’ Street was born. Essentially, the street contains lamp posts with padding wrapped around it (similar to what you would find wrapped around a football goal post). There have also been talks of creating ‘texting lanes’ similar to cycle lanes that would allow pedestrians texting to more easily navigate the street by relying on the line painted on the pavement; however, this idea has yet to become a reality as far as I know.

Bottom Line: Texting + Walking = Bad

As the ownership of smart phones continues to rise in all parts of the globe, I am sure stories of people walking off of streets and piers while texting or updating social media statuses will continue. If there is anything to take away from this post it is the following.

If you absolutely must text and walk at least check out the Transparent Screen, Android-powered application (Sorry iPhone users, not sure if a similar application is available yet), that uses your smart phone’s camera to show you what is directly in front of you while walking and texting. I tried the application out just for kicks and giggles and it actually does work really well. You can turn the application on when you start walking and use any other applications or functions while it is on. Then whenever you feel you can devote your attention to the actual real world you just turn Transparent Screen off.  Who knows, maybe it will save you from veering off a pier one day when you are sharing a really crucial status update to the world.

–Amanda Douglas, Cities That Work Blog

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