Study finds walking under the influence of a cellphone can result in injury or death
by Zen Vuong
PASADENA - For the most part police officers don't ticket pedestrians walking under the influence of a mobile device.
An estimated 2 million injuries each year are the result of walking and talking, texting or fiddling with a cellphone, according to a study authored by Jack Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University.
It's Nasar's third study of what he calls "distracted walking."
"When talking on a cellphone, you have distracted attention," Nasar said. "While your body may be in the environment, your head is somewhere else. When texting, your eyes aren't even in the environment."
For his most recent study, Nasar's team of researchers analyzed six years of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The system samples injury reports from 100 U.S. hospitals. The study found that people under 30 -- especially males -- were more prone to cellphone-related injuries. The study will be published in Accident Analysis & Prevention journal.
Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that about 4,430 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2011, an 8 percent increase since 2009.
As a result of its findings, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday it is offering $2 million to 22 of the nation's most deadly cities for pedestrians.
Among the worst: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Stockton and San Diego.
The money can be used for education or enforcement initiatives similar to a plan the Utah Transit Authority approved in March 2012 after a "rash of train accidents," The Salt Lake Tribune reported. As a result, residents of Utah face $50 fines for distracted walking near rail lines. Repeat offenses could cost $100.
Among road deaths nationwide, pedestrians accounted for 14 percent of traffic fatalities in 2011, a 3 percent increase over 2010, the NHTSA reported.
Nationally, a pedestrian is injured every 8 minutes and another dies every two hours, the NHTSA said.
Chris Cortes, who works in Pasadena, said he sees people using mobile devices and walking in public all the time. By his own admission, being distracted has caused Cortes to walk into bolted-down chairs on a corporate plaza because he was texting or talking on the phone.
Communicating through a handheld device isn't the same as talking to someone in the same room or car, Nasar said.
"Imagine you're in a car and driving, and you're about to hit something," he said. "The person next to you says something: They hit synthetic breaks (because) the two of you are
People cross at the diagonal along Colorado Blvd and De Lacey Ave. some looking at their smart phone or talking as they walk. The U.S. Department of Transportation said the number of pedestrian deaths has been on the rise in the last two years. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)actually in the environment."
Nasar analyzed instances where cellphone use in public places put people into hospitals.
For example, a 14-year-old boy suffered chest and shoulder injuries because he fell off a 7-foot bridge into a rock-strewn ditch, the study said. Then there was the 23-year-old man who was hit by a car while chatting it up on his phone as he walked down the middle of a street.
In Nasar's study, data revealed that the number of cellphone-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms went from about 560 in 2004 to about 1,500 in 2010 even though the total number of pedestrians treated in emergency rooms dropped.
While the study's 2 million injuries finding is an extrapolated number partially based on car-related mobile phone injuries, Nasar said he imagines the real number is even larger.
"If you have an accident -- let's say you fall while you're having a conversation on a cellphone -- because of health care, many people won't go to the hospital," Nasar said. "Even people with insurance would probably go to their primary care doctor," so the emergency room data is a conservative estimate, he added.
Other studies have also confirmed Nasar's assessment of the danger of distracted walking.
Many people do not pay attention when they cross the street because of mobile devices, according to a University of Washington observational study published in December 2012. While most people they saw obeyed traffic light laws, only one in four pedestrians followed the full safety routine, including looking both ways before crossing, the study found.
Helen Han, a North Hollywood resident, said she uses her cellphone in courtyards and on sidewalks, but always puts it away when she's around oncoming traffic.
"I want to make sure I know where I'm walking toward," said Han, 23. "I want to make sure if I see cars around me."
But Han may be part of a minority. A woman pushing a baby stroller with two other kids in tow crossed Lake Avenue Wednesday afternoon with a cellphone tucked between her shoulder and ear.
Anywhere people go, they inevitably see pedestrians who are clueless about their surroundings because of a mobile device, Cortes said.
Consequently in 2011, cities such as Birmingham, Ala.; Waco, Texas; and Hesperia, Calif., had the highest pedestrian fatality rates. On the other hand, places such as Moreno Valley, Calif.; Glendale, Calif.; and Syracuse, N.Y., were deemed safest for walkers, according to the NHTSA.