Walking & Talking Leads To Injuries, Bruised Egos

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 ego.

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 old.

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.