The dangers of texting and walking

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Published June 24, 2013

| Women's Health

If you text while crossing the road, you might not make it to the other side. That’s because pedestrians who text or talk on their phones are less cautious and walk more slowly than undistracted walkers, according to a new study published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Researchers monitored 1,102 walkers at 20 different intersections in Seattle, Wash. They found that one out of every three people used their phones to talk, listen to music or text while they crossed the street. On average, music listeners walked slightly faster than undistracted pedestrians, but texters took 18 percent longer to cross the street. Moreover, the texters were nearly four times more likely to disobey traffic signals, cross mid-intersection, or walk without looking both ways—an obvious recipe for disaster. Worse yet: Women were twice as likely as men to exhibit at least one unsafe crossing behavior.

More: 4 Ways to Make Your Cell Phone Safer

Not surprisingly, previous studies have found that while people know it’s dangerous to walk or drive while using a phone, they continue to do it. No wonder the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 4,000 pedestrians are killed every year, and another 60,000 are injured.

One surefire way to enhance your roadside safety is to power down while you’re in transit. But if imminent danger alone doesn’t convince you to keep your phone in your pocket, maybe this will: it’s rude to talk or text while you walk. To minimize insult to injury, ask yourself these questions before you next use your phone on the go:

1. “Is someone walking behind me?”
When your eyes are on your screen, your feet move more slowly, and you’re more likely to collide with or hold up the person behind you. 

“Any time you are inconveniencing, slowing down, or nearly bumping into someone else as a result of an activity conducted for your own convenience, you are, in fact, being rude,” said Thomas Farley, author of "Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces" and the blog, "What Manners Most." 

In crowded areas, find a side street that’s less congested before you text or talk.

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2. “Can I express myself clearly right now?”
While you’re walking, your mind is more likely to be focused on your destination than the person you are communicating with. Not only can a thoughtless text misconstrue your message, but a text laced with typos shows you just don’t care, Farley said. Instead of pounding out of a message on the go, think about what you’d like to say while you walk, and write it out later.

More: The Health Risks of Mobile Devices

3. “Should I call instead of text?”
While text messages are the perfect medium for sending brief notes (“C u there @ 6?”) it’s best to discuss complex matters on the phone, Farley said. Unlike writing a text message, making a phone call leaves your eyes free to focus on the road and other obstacles (like moving people). That said, don’t assume that your friend is free to talk whenever you are. Using the instructions above, send a quick text to ask if she has time to chat, and arrange to call her at a convenient time—ideally when you’re not in transit.

4. “Can I wait to make this call?”
Avoid phone conversations when you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers; unless your news is relevant to all, your voice is an unwelcome distraction. If your call can wait–and most calls can, Farley said—but your message is urgent, text it instead: Veer away from pedestrian and road traffic. Then stop walking, and switch off your phone keyboard sounds, and text away.

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