Study Finds Texting While Walking Throws Off Your Balance

It's rather annoying having to sidestep a fellow pedestrian on the sidewalk who's paying more attention to his mobile phone than his surroundings, but not only is such behavior selfishly rude, it's scientifically observed to be dangerous, too. A new study points out all kinds of flaws with trying to text message and strut at the same time.

Researchers at Australia's University of Queensland used motion capture technology similar to that employed by movie studios to observe walking patterns. Test subjects wore reflective markers on the back of their heads using a head-band, as well as their back, heels, and pelvis. This allowed the researchers to measure the participants' gait and movement patterns.

Texting while walking
Image Source: Flickr (Adam Freidin)

"Our data indicate that typing text, and to a lesser extent reading text, on a mobile phone impairs gait quality. Taken together with the observation that 35 percent of our participants reported previous accidents while typing text, these data could be interpreted to suggest texting may pose an additional risk to safety when pedestrians are required to navigate obstacles or cross a road," the study's authors wrote.

Researchers noticed poor posture on the part of participants when texting while walking. Subjects were prone to locking their arms, noting that a reduced arm swing can throw off a person's balance. Researchers also noticed a slower stride by those attempting to text and walk simultaneously, along with other behavior, some of which negatively affected the subjects' ability to navigate in a straight line.

There have been numerous studies on the dangers of texting while driving, but this one is the first to examine its impact on gait performance. Of course, a person only need to look up videos on YouTube of pedestrians walking into objects while texting to see how dangerous it can be, or follow the news. Just last month, a woman walked right off a pier and nearly drowned because she was looking down at your mobile phone (to check Facebook).

You can read the full study on PLOS ONE.