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Study: Walking and Talking with Mobile Phone Don’t Mix

Women in track suit walking while talking on a mobile phone


Urban planning researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus found more than 1,500 pedestrians using mobile phones were treated in emergency rooms in 2010, with the number of inuries rising sharply since 2004. Jack Nasar, a professor in Ohio State’s architecture school, and former graduate student Derek Troyer published their findings in the August 2013 issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention (paid subscription required).

Nasar and Troyer reviewed data for their analysis from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That system samples hospitals in the U.S. and collects data on emergency room visits related to various consumer products. From the sample, researchers can estimate total numbers of injuries requiring treatment in a hospital, related to specific products.

The authors took data from 2004 to 2010, looking specifically at injuries related to cell phone use by pedestrians in public areas, which excludes injuries received while at home. The results show the number of injuries by pedestrian mobile phone users rose from 559 in 2004 to 1,506 in 2010. In comparison, emergency room visits by pedestrians for any reason dropped during that some period, from about 97,000 in 2004 to 41,000 in 2010.

Nasar and Troyer found the increase in emergency room visits for pedestrians using cell phones parallels the rise in phone-related injuries for drivers. Some seven in 10 (69%) of the cases reported involved talking on the phones while one in 10 (9%) cases were texting. Nasar believes texting isn’t any safer than talking, just fewer people text than talk when walking.

Younger pedestrians were more likely to be hurt when using a mobile phone, with more than 1,000 emergency room visits during the study period for people age 21 to 25, and nearly as many (985) for people age 16 to 20. Injured pedestrians using mobile phones were also more likely to be male than female.

The number of injuries reported in the emergency room statistics, Nasar notes, likely undercount the total number of pedestrian injuries received while using a mobile phone. The data for their study, says Nasar, exclude people who treat their own injuries or visit storefront urgent care centers rather than emergency rooms. Uninsured pedestrians suffering injuries while using their phones are also less likely to get treatment.

Nasar believes changing norms of behavior for pedestrians to be more careful when using their mobile phones begins with parents. “Parents already teach their children to look both ways when crossing the street,” says Nasar. “They should also teach them to put away their cell phone when walking, particularly when crossing a street.”

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