Texting, walking more risky than distracted driving

WASHINGTON — Texting while walking accounts for more injuries per mile than distracted driving, according to a professor of emergency medicine who says he’s treating a skyrocketing number of pedestrian injury cases.

“Pedestrian injuries are particularly dangerous because there’s no protective area surrounding you when you’re hit by a car,” says Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Buffalo.

“These pedestrian injuries are particularly dangerous in that they have higher mortality,” Jehle tells WTOP. “We always view pedestrian injuries as kind of high risk injuries.”

Nationally, of the 41,000 pedestrians treated yearly in emergency rooms, up to 15 percent of the accidents, or more than 6,100 involve cellphones, says Jehle.

“This is the first time there have been more pedestrian injuries related to cellphone use than there have been related to driving.”

“When texting, you’re not in control with the complex actions of walking,” says Jehle, who is also an attending physician at Erie County Medical Center, a regional trauma center in western New York.

Jehle says paying attention to a phone screen instead of a walker’s surroundings can be catastrophic.

“We see pelvic fractures, lower extremity injuries, and often the individual is thrown up onto the car and there may be head injuries as they hit the windshield,” says Jehle.

Less serious injuries from texting while walking often include walking into walls, falling down stairs, and tripping over items strewn on the floor.

The dangers of distracted texting

The number of pedestrian injuries has jumped dramatically in the past 10 years, coinciding with the proliferation of cellphones, says Jehle.

An Ohio State University study found the number of pedestrian injuries involving cellphones tripled between 2004 and 2010, while the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped.

Jehle says the numbers likely understate the problem, as patients tend to underreport information about behaviors they find embarassing.

Historically, pedestrian injuries affected the very young, the very old, and the very inebriated, but that has changed, according to the OSU study

Now, those under 30 – chiefly 16-to 25-year-olds – are the most at risk for cellphone-related injuries while walking.

What makes texting while walking so distracting?

Jehle says there are three different types of distractions for pedestrians: manual, in which they are physically doing something else; visual, where they see something else; and cognitive, in which their mind is somewhere else.

Attempts to legislate walking and texting have been strongly voted down, says Jehle.

While Jehle suggests avoiding typing while walking, there are smartphone apps to minimize the risks.

Several apps facilitate texting through voice commands.

Other apps use the phone’s camera to superimpose the walker’s keystrokes over potential hazards within the camera’s range.

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