Texting makes you walk like you're drunk

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Published January 24, 2014

| FoxNews.com

If you're texting while you’re walking, you might as well be drunk.

At the very least, texting while traipsing down the street makes you walk funny, according to a new study by researchers in Australia.

"Our study showed that people deviated from a straight line when texting while walking," Siobhan Schabrun, who led the University of Queensland study, told FoxNews.com. Schabrun is a NHMRC Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Western Sydney who studies chronic pain, rehabilitation and neuroplasticity -- the brain's ability to adapt.

While the weaving-while-texting news won't come as a surprise to anyone who's been slowed down by sidewalk-blocking meanderers sending "LOL" messages, the study took a detailed look into exactly how and what practices affected people's postures.

The researchers examined 26 people who had owned their smartphones for more than three months and used them daily. Participants were asked to walk a straight line while not using a phone, while reading a passage on a phone, and then while texting on a phone. Eight cameras monitored the subjects' gait, body position and head inclination.

The researchers found that people walked more slowly while reading and even more slowly while texting. Using a phone also necessitated less head movement and reduced arm swing, which affected the subjects’ balance.

In other words, texting while walking gives you terrible posture and makes you look like you've had a few drinks.

Many studies have shown that pedestrians using smartphones can become dangerously distracted. An Ohio State University study found that approximately 1,500 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries sustained while using a cellphone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 4,432 pedestrian fatalities in 2011, compared to 4,109 in 2009 -- a small rise, but one significant enough for the agency to highlight it -- and the National Institutes of Health have published reports showing that pedestrians can be dangerously distracted by cellphones.

But the Australian study is the first to show that reading and texting while walking significantly affect posture. It may be harmful not only in terms of traffic safety; it may also lead to back and neck pain.

"Although not examined in our study, it is reasonable to suggest that people who adopt the posture we observed in our study for prolonged periods of time might develop neck or shoulder pain," Schabrun said in an e-mail. Further studies will be needed to determine if there are any long-term consequences.

What is immediately clear is that texting while walking can make people as accident-prone as if they were drunk. There are countless surveillance and dashcam videos of smartphone users walking into fountains, off train platforms and straight into oncoming traffic. Add drivers distracted by their own smartphone apps, and it can lead to deadly consequences. 

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