Distracted Walking: LOL Wut?

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

Arched neck, eyes down, headphones nestled in ears and a mobile device held at chest level. This sight is typical nowadays, especially among teenagers. Though not as notorious as distracted driving, distracted walking recently has gained national attention as a growing societal problem. Many videos of distracted walkers having accidents have gone viral on YouTube, but the issue is no laughing matter. A study released in August 2013 by Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries to children, takes an in-depth look at teen ‘walking behaviors.’ The study shows that pedestrian injuries among teens have risen 25 percent in the last five years in the 16- to 19-year-old age group. Researchers believe that cell phones and other electronic devices are to blame for the increase in pedestrian deaths among that age group. Cell phone ownership among teens has grown significantly in recent years so that nearly 8 of every 10 teens have one. The constant use of mobile devices is even more noteworthy. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that teens send and receive an average of 110 text messages daily. In light of these statistics, some organizations have taken steps to encourage teens and other pedestrians to make a conscious effort to take a break from electronics. Safe Kids developed the “Moment of Silence” campaign to remember Christina Morris-Ward, a teenage girl who was killed in Maryland in 2012 while crossing the street on her way to school. Christina was distracted while crossing the street wearing headphones and looking down at her phone. A car hit her in oncoming traffic, resulting in fatal injuries. The campaign encourages students and parents to pledge to keep “devices down, heads up” in remembrance of the hundreds of teens hit by cars each year. Christina’s mother, Gwen Ward, educates communities about the dangers of distracted walking. “One of the most painful things about that horrific day is knowing that there are many things that could have been prevented,” said Ward. “While I can’t undo what happened, I can try to make sure that no other families have to go through what I’m going through.”Stories similar to Christina’s are all too common and less extreme examples of distracted walking occur daily. The Associated Press reports that 1,152 people visited emergency rooms across the country for injuries sustained while walking and using an electronic device, according to data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Commission examined data from 100 emergency rooms to project numbers to reflect a national scale. The numbers, however, are likely grossly underestimated since many doctors or nurses may not have asked if patient injuries were due to distracted walking. Understanding the safety risks of distracted walking is the first step to tackling this growing problem. The next step is to persuade others to cut out the cyber distraction. Ask yourself, is that text really worth a life?