Do You Have This Dangerous Habit?


If you’re among the one third of pedestrians who use their phones while crossing busy streets, you might want to stop and look both ways. According to a new report, texting while walking might be as dangerous as texting while driving.

The report, published in the journal Injury Prevention, examined over 1,000 people crossing 20 busy intersections in Seattle this summer. Researchers looked at the impact of several distracting activities, such as talking on the phone, listening to music, texting, or walking with children or pets. People distracted by some of these activities took almost a second and a half longer to cross the road. People who were texting, however, took almost two seconds longer than those who weren’t. They were also four times as likely to disobey traffic lights, cross in the middle of an intersection, or fail to check for oncoming traffic.

“Talking on your cell phone or texting while crossing the street is risky for you and drivers,” said lead researcher Dr. Beth Ebel, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Texters are not looking before they cross the street, they are not crossing with the light, they are walking more slowly, and they are not looking at traffic. They are putting themselves at risk; they are putting the car that hits them at risk.”

In the US, accidents involving pedestrians and cars injure more than 60,000 people a year, and kill more than 4,000. Although this study didn’t account for the role of phone distractions in actual injuries or deaths, some experts believe it stands to reason that distracted walking contributes to the danger. “While there are limitations, and it is all observational data, this supports common sense and my bias related to distractions while walking,” said Dr. Carl Schulman, director of injury prevention education at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Of course it can’t go so far as to prove that this poor behavior leads to increased crash and injury risk,” he said. “But I don’t think it takes a leap of faith to get there.”

Image: Texting, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Ed Yourdon’s photostream.