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The number of texting walking accidents has risen dramatically in recent years and so in this post we look at the concept of Distracted Walking.

Distracted walking texting accidents covered

Any of you who read my previous post on the dangers of using mobile technologies when navigating, will not be surprised and perhaps will even be relieved to learn that the testing of ‘Text walking lanes’ are being introduced in some cities. Studies have already shown that texting whilst walking can reduce your peripheral vision down to one tenth of its normal range. Even talking on your smartphone can greatly reduce your awareness as you walk.

Texting accidents

The change in gait as people walk is another issue as people continually look downwards as they use their smartphones. This is showing to have a detrimental affect on people’s health and is an increasing problem. The neurons you normally use such as for peripheral vision and navigating are the same neurons you use when texting and this reduces your awareness if you are using a mobile phone as you walk. A new form of anti-social behaviour is being introduced through as some walkers are literally being walked into by the text walking brigade. To be fair though, most of us have been the texter as some point, but you might also find that you have also already experienced having to jump out of the way for the spatially unaware mobile user.

Text Walking Lanes

Text walking lanes are now being introduced in a number of locations to overcome and deal with the large number of what are being termed ‘Distracted Walkers’. Some trials include those by:

  • Simon Fraser University (Canada) who noticed an increase in the numbers of students who were having accidents whilst navigating through the university, the accidents a direct result of mobile phone and smart phone usage, have introduced a test lane for smart phone users. High levels of distraction have led to people walking into obstacles and into other people and it is now seen as a genuine issue on the campus.
  • Antwerp, Belgium are testing a text and smart phone only lane to separate those walking with distraction and those without. Such a test is becoming more and more popular across the globe, with several attractions, cities and travel hubs now evaluating the idea of separating text walkers from non-text walkers, such is the genuine danger now posed by text walkers.
  • Chongqing, China is actually one of the first cities to tackle this growing problem and have allocated a busy  main street in the city as a test location for separating users

Crowd Control – Managing Text Walkers

This is an interesting video from National Geographic, who look at the issue of managing text walkers.

The quadrupling of distracted walkers getting sent to hospital in the U.S, according to National Geographic in the above video, is a direct result of the introduction of smart phones. Walking whilst texting, surfing a phone and chatting, means that we are walking around without a full awareness of our surroundings and this is creating a definite and significant danger. You may have read my experience in a previous post about how I was almost knocked off a path as a large heavy set guy literally walked straight at me on a path and, without at any point being aware of my presence, he walked directly at me as he texted on his phone. I had to jump out of the way at the last minute. Similarly, I saw a girl walk directly in front of a car in Cardiff city centre, completely oblivious to the cars, even though she was crossing a road! The idea of looking left and right and then crossing which I learned in school from the age of five, seems a long gone concept.

Distracted Walkers and the Gorilla

Research

Studies by Ohio State University in the United States has shown a definite increase year on year of texting walking accidents and injuries, with numbers of injuries doubling over a five year period. This pattern is continuing to occur and the risks are not only for the users themselves, but also for unsuspecting drivers (as people walk into the road whilst distracted), but also poses risks for other walkers. In recent years, accidents have included a young man falling onto a subway track having got distracted from his line of path as he walked the platform; many people walking directly in front of traffic; and a steady stream of people walking directly into others; whilst one guy is known to have accidentally walked off a bridge whilst texting.

Updates

  • It was interesting last week because the state of New Jersey, in the United States, have proposed having a USD$50 fine for distracted walkers, much like people get fined for jaywalking. Since I first wrote this post, the awareness of the dangers of text walking i.e. walking with your head down and with the person oblivious to what is going on around them, has been the cause of an increasing number of road accidents. I am looking for funding to study the issue of ‘Distracted Walking’ to do post-doc research in this area in 2017. I will keep you posted! It is certainly an area of wayfinding which needs looking at.
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Dr Paul Symonds has a PhD in Wayfinding from Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK. Paul works with the signage industry, airports and other locations providing wayfinding audits, consultancy and training.