Hazardous handsets? ‘Distracted walking’ injuries quadruple in seven years

If you’re not guilty of it yourself, you may have seen others at it. The proliferation of handset ownership has led to an increase in what’s described as ‘distracted walking’ accidents, where someone ambling along a street with their mobile device in hand, lost in tapping out a text or playing a game, fails to notice the [insert hazard of your choice here] before it’s too late.

An ABC News report this week cites data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission showing that over 1,150 people in the US were treated in hospitals last year after getting into a scrape (or worse) while using their handset. While this may not seem like a particularly alarming figure for a population of over 300 million, it nevertheless marks a four-fold increase over the previous seven years.

Officials in Fort Lee, NJ, were so fed up with having to deal with the consequences of distracted walking that its police force began handing out leaflets a couple of months back, explaining the dangers of such behavior. The users were evidently too busy with their handsets to read the leaflet, with the majority of pedestrians carrying on as usual. As a result, the cops are now handing out not leaflets but $85 fines to anyone texting and jaywalking.

“They’re not walking in the crosswalks. They’re walking against the red light, and they’re being struck by vehicles,” Fort Lee police chief Thomas Ripoli said. “We had three fatalities this year, and 23 people hurt, hit, [in] a three-month period.”

Speaking to ABC News about the problem, Dr. Robert Glatter, who works in the emergency room at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, said: “I think people aren’t quite aware of how dangerous distracted walking can be. Keeping your head down while walking and not looking ahead of you can lead to a significant incident of injuries.”

Glatter listed the kinds of things he’s seen at his hospital, which included everything from facial fractures to sprained ankles and foot injuries. The emergency room physician told ABC News that these days he has to deal with distracted-walking incidents on a regular basis. “In a typical week, we maybe see anywhere between 5 to 10 of these injuries,” he said.

As an April Fool’s joke, officials in Philadelphia put down some e-lanes in a busy part of the city, for use by those wishing to use their handsets while walking. To their surprise, some locals got upset when they heard the lanes were going to be removed, prompting officials to organize a new distracted-walking safety campaign.

Distracted walking has, of course, been around since the days of the Sony Walkman, where ear-blasting music would drown out the noise of a police siren or speeding car, resulting in the occasional tragic accident. Now, widespread ownership of mobile phones appears to be contributing to an increase in distracted-walking incidents, though an effective solution seems some way off. Do you think laws need to be introduced in an attempt to get offenders to take notice, or do you believe the number of accidents is so small that it’s simply not worth bothering about?

[Image: SVLuma / Shutterstock]

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