There’s the old joke that some people can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. But for many, walking while texting or talking is a dangerous practice.
Distracted walking puts an increasing number of Americans at risk for injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
“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,” said academy spokesman Dr. Alan Hilibrand. He is an orthopedic surgeon with Jefferson University Hospitals in the Philadelphia area.
An academy survey conducted recently of thousands of people nationwide found that nearly 40 percent said they have seen a distracted walking incident. A little more than one-quarter said they had been in an incident themselves.
Women 55 and older are most likely to suffer serious injuries because of distracted walking, the survey found. Those aged 18 to 34 are less likely to be injured, even though they reported higher rates of distracted walking incidents.
These younger adults are more likely to text, listen to music or talk on the phone while traveling on foot, the survey found.
“The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges pedestrians to avoid musculoskeletal and other injuries by engaging with their surroundings — drivers, bikers, other walkers and obstacles,” Hilibrand said in an academy news release.
Overall, 78 percent of respondents said distracted walking is a serous issue.
But usually it’s someone’s else’s problem. While about three-quarters of respondents said other people are usually or always walking while distracted, only 29 percent said the same about themselves.
So why do pedestrians multitask in the first place? Nearly half of survey participants said they don’t think about it. Twenty-eight percent said they believe they can walk and do other things at the same time, and 22 percent said they are busy and want to use their time productively.
“Many of us simply need to force ourselves to set down our devices and focus on what’s in front of and around us. This will ensure that we safely arrive at our destination, during this busy holiday season and throughout the year,” Hilibrand said.
Between 2004 and 2010, emergency department visits for injuries involving distracted pedestrians using cell phones more than doubled, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Accident, Analysis & Prevention.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about pedestrian safety.