While you might recognize that texting and walking isn’t a great idea, most people still do it. A report from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons revealed that 78 percent of American adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue—but only 29 percent owned up to doing it themselves. The issue is our brains evolved to focus attention on primarily one task at a time. It’s a phenomenon psychologists refer to as inattention blindness. (If you think you’re able to multitask, try the world-famous Selective Attention Test.)
Consider this: 60 percent of people texting while walking veered off course in a study published in 2012 by researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University. At the time, one of the co-authors of the study, Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, noted that he and his fellow researchers were shocked to learn how disruptive talking and texting could be to one’s gait. Just recently, a study out of the U.K. reported that “writing a text message whilst walking” resulted in significant adaptations in gait. And it’s not just writing texts that causes problems. It’s reading texts, checking emails, using social networking apps and even talking on the phone. To varying degrees, they all pull your attention away from minding your safety while walking.
There’s a simple solution, according to the National Safety Council:
- Do not walk, talk, and text.
- If you have to talk or text, move out of the way of others and to the side of the walkway.
- Do not cross or walk in the street while using an electronic device.
- Do not walk with headphones in your ears.
- Be aware of your surroundings, especially in congested areas.
Unwilling to give up your right to text and walk? The decision may soon be taken out of your hands:
- In 2012, Fort Lee, a municipality in New Jersey, banned texting while walking. Violations come with an $85 ticket.
- A ban on pedestrians looking at mobile phones or texting while crossing the street will take effect in Hawaii’s largest city in late October. Fines will start at $15 and go as high as $99 for multiple violations.
- London, England found a slightly more polite way to handle it—by padding lampposts.
- Legislators in Arkansas, Illinois, and New York State have been trying to pass laws banning the use of mobile devices while walking.
- Stamford, Connecticut, may be the next city to fine you for texting and walking; they may include talking on the phone or listening to music with headphones while crossing the street.
When you simply can’t wait to take a phone call or check your texts, Safety.com recommends:
- holding your phone up higher in your visual field so that you can see any potential risks as they come
- crossing at crosswalks
- obeying traffic signals
- taking frequent breaks from using your device to assess your surroundings
- using software that reads messages aloud
- using voice recognition typing
- keeping your headphone volume to a reasonable level that allows you to hear your surroundings, or keeping just one earbud in (noise-canceling headphones are a big NO when walking about).
Of course, the easiest solution is the one you already employ while driving (right??): Stand to the side and check your email or text before moving on. Here are some other times when texting is just a bad idea. And make sure you’re not suffering from a compulsive need to check your smartphone.