While distracted driving has certainly received a lot of
attention lately, other distractions could also be dangerous. Distracted
walking, for instance, is becoming another growing problem. Distracted walking
combines a pedestrian, an electronic device, and an unseen danger such as a
crack in the sidewalk, toy on the floor, or a car (parked or moving).
Although most of the injuries that result from distracted
walking aren't near as serious as those that may result from distracted
driving, the number of injuries are on the rise. Most of the time, the mishaps
for distracted walking are minor—a broken fingernail, bumped head, jammed
finger, or a sprained ankle. Many distracted walkers also experienced a bruised
According to a study conducted by Ohio State University, slightly
more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they got
distracted and tripped, fell, or ran into something while using a cellphone
to talk or text.
This statistic had nearly doubled from 2007.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Jack L. Nasar, a
professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State. Nasar also mentioned
that the number of mishaps is likely much higher since most injuries don't
actually require a hospital visit.
In the study, Derek Troyer, one of Nasar's graduate students,
looked at records of emergency room visits compiled by the Consumer Product
Safety Commission. During his research, Troyer found examples of a
16-year-old-boy who walked into a telephone pole while texting
and suffered a
concussion as well as a 28-year-old man who tripped and fractured a finger on
the hand gripping his cellphone. About half of the visits Troyer studied
involved people under 30, and a quarter of them were between 16 and 20 years
So what is it that prevents us from multitasking while
talking on the phone? Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of
California, San Francisco, provides one possible explanation. He says a cellphone
conversation taxes not just auditory resources in the brain but also visual
functions. This combination prompts the listener to create visual imagery
related to the conversation in a way that overrides the processing of real
images. In addition, the cell phone gives people an opportunity to pursue goals
that seem more important than walking down the street.