On city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with his head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn’t as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real.There has to be an update of this old trademark of the Long Island Rail Road, showing contemporary device-thumbing commuters crashing into each other, or, worse, walking into the path of a train.
Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.
We used to say of a klutz that he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. Walking and texting is more difficult.
A study by researchers at Stony Brook University in New York compared the performance of people asked to walk across a room to a target — a piece of paper taped to the floor — without distractions and then again next day while talking on a cellphone or texting. The group that talked on the cellphone walked slightly slower and veered off course a bit more than previously, but the texting group walked slower, veered off course 61 percent more and overshot the target 13 percent more.The world we live in, however, is a world in which using public resources to protect people from themselves becomes the default policy option.
“People really need to be aware that they are impacting their safety by texting or talking on the cellphone” while walking, Eric Lamberg, an associate physical therapy professor who conducted the study, said. “I think the risk is there.”
State and local officials are struggling to figure out how to respond, and in some cases asking how far government should go in trying to protect people from themselves.Hey, it's Philadelphia, where Eagle fans boo Santa Claus. "Nitwit" is polite. For those decals to work, people have to notice them, which they aren't doing if they're playing Angry Birds. London's "Look Left" or "Look Right" curb markings work, in part, though, because pedestrians visiting from much of the rest of the world grasp that British street use is a survival of the days of mounted swordsmen.
In Delaware, highway safety officials opted for a public education campaign, placing decals on crosswalks and sidewalks at busy intersections urging pedestrians to “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”
Philadelphia officials are drafting a safety campaign that will be aimed in part at pedestrians who are looking at their devices instead of where they’re going. “One of the messages will certainly be ‘pick your head up’ – I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.