Using a cell phone or listening to music while walking may cause tripping on curbs, bumping into walls, falling down stairs, walking into traffic, even stepping into manholes. The brain not only juggles tasks, it also juggles focus and attention. If you do two cognitively complex tasks the brain shifts its focus which may lead to the development of “inattention blindness”.
Distracted walking is a significant safety threat as it is one of the major cause of accidents. The National Safety Council has officially added Distracted Walking to its annual report of unintentional deaths and injuries. Surveys have shown that 60% of pedestrians are distracted by other activities while walking.
As it only takes a few seconds to be distracted with activities while walking (such as typing on your cell phone), it’s imperative to put your devices down when walking and especially while crossing the street.
According to studies, the number of injuries to pedestrians using their phones has more than doubled since 2004. Other distracted activities such as distracted driving can cause crashes, injuries and even death.1
What Are The Causes Of Distracted Walking?
Pedestrians face three types of distraction while walking:
- manual, in which they are doing other activities,
- visual, where they see something else, and
- cognitive, in which their mind is somewhere else.
Some of the distractions that inhibit situational awareness are as follows:
- Cell phone conversations
- Text messaging
- Listening to music [i-pod]
- Looking at something other than the direction of travel
- Waving away an insect
- Conversations with friends
- Eating on the run
- Looking at one’s watch
- Attempting to find something in a backpack or luggage
- Reading a book or newspaper
- Being lost in thought
What Are The Risks?
The problem of distracted walking is a very real and serious one. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 76,000 injured in traffic collisions in the United States in 2012.
That’s one death every 2 hours and an injury every 7 minutes. The total rate of pedestrian fatalities compared to overall road deaths is getting worse each year.2
May Harm An Individual
Using cell phone or listening to music with the use of portable music players while walking may cause harm to an individual.
Experts say that pedestrians are suffering the consequences of mobile distraction tripping on curbs, bumping into walls, falling down stairs, walking into traffic, even stepping into manholes as they chat or type while walking.3
Inattention Blindness And Situational Awareness
Our drive for increased productivity makes it tempting to use cell phones while walking or driving. People often think they are effectively accomplishing two tasks at the same time. However, the brain not only juggles tasks, it also juggles focus and attention.
When people attempt to perform two cognitively complex tasks such as walking and talking on a phone, the brain shifts its focus which may lead to the development of “inattention blindness”. Thus, important information falls out of view and is not processed by the brain.
For example, you may not see a wall in front of you during distracted walking. Because this is a process people are not aware of, it’s virtually impossible for people to realize they are mentally taking on too much.
People do not perform as well when trying to perform two attention-demanding tasks at the same time. Research shows that pedestrians don’t effectively monitor their environment for safety while talking on cell phones and this makes multitasking while walking very hazardous.
Those using electronic devices walk more slowly, weave more and make more direction changes than those not on cell phones which may lead to more accidents and injuries.
Personal responsibility is the order of the day. The solution to distracted walking is also a fairly simple one – Do not use your cell phone or engage in other distracting activities while walking and try to focus solely on the task at hand. Keeping these simple pointers in mind will save you from unforeseen misery.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Understanding the distracted brain, National Safety Council, April 2012.|
|2.||↑||The Dangers of Distracted Walking, Mesriani Law Group.|
|3.||↑||Licence, Sammy, et al. “Gait pattern alterations during walking, texting and walking and texting during cognitively distractive tasks while negotiating common pedestrian obstacles.” PLoS one 10.7 (2015): e0133281.|