Distracted walking is a ‘serious’ issue, say US adults, but few admit to doing it

distracted walking study
SV Luma/Shutterstock
Digital deadwalking, distracted walking, mobile drift, or plain old text walking – call it what you like (we’ll go with “distracted walking” here), the issue is gaining more and more attention with every knock, bump, and scrape experienced by those sauntering down the street with their heads buried in their handsets.

It’s not me, it’s you

A study released this week by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – a group that should certainly know a thing or two about such incidents and accidents – reveals that 78 percent of American adults now regard distracted walking as a “serious” issue. However, while 74 percent of the respondents said “other people” are usually or always walking while distracted, only 29 percent actually admitted to doing it themselves.

The practice, which usually involves messaging while walking, chatting on the phone, playing games, and zoning out to music – though thankfully not all at the same time – has in recent years resulted in a number of embarrassing mishaps for individuals. This woman, for example, got her leg stuck in a storm drain while engrossed in a messaging conversation, while this one ended up stepping straight into a canal for much the same reason.

Overly confident in ability to multitask?

The AAOS said that one of the difficulties in combatting distracted walking may be that Americans “are overly confident in their ability to multitask.” When asked why they engage in the practice, 48 percent of respondents said “they just don’t think about it,” 28 percent believe “they can walk and do other things,” while 22 percent claimed to be “busy and want to use their time productively.”

The problem has led some cities to introduce so-called texting lanes, though the initiatives are usually tongue-in-cheek efforts to highlight the issue rather than a serious attempt to solve it.

Commenting on the problem, AAOS spokesperson Alan Hilibrand said, “Today, the dangers of the ‘digital deadwalker’ are growing with more and more pedestrians falling down stairs, tripping over curbs, bumping into other walkers, or stepping into traffic causing a rising number of injuries, from scrapes and bruises to sprains and fractures.”

Turning its attention to the holiday season, a time when foot traffic in cities and shopping malls spikes, the organization offered up some tips for handset users to help ensure they spend Christmas at home rather than in hospital. Advice includes keeping music at a volume where you can still hear the noise of traffic, crucial if you don’t want to be mown down by a bus while enjoying Adele’s latest album.

Other suggestions include focusing on “the people, as well as the objects and obstacles in front of and around you,” and to “look up, not down, especially when stepping off or onto curbs or in the middle of major intersections; and/or when walking or approaching on stairs or escalators.”

The AAOS study involved a total of 6,000 respondents nationally, with 40 percent claiming to have personally witnessed a distracted walking incident, while 26 percent said they’ve been involved in an incident themselves.

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