A woman, her gaze glued to the phone in her hands, walks toward a mall fountain situated directly in front of her. Without lifting her head, she continues along her path until she trips into the shallow pool of water. After registering her surroundings, she climbs out of the fountain, wet and surprised, and continues along her way.
The video, taken from security footage at a suburban mall in Wyomissing, Pa., became a YouTube sensation after it surfaced online last year. But as funny as these texting-and-walking incidents can be, experts are warning that “distracted walking” is becoming a safety hazard for Americans.
According to the Associated Press, the number of patients treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained while they were walking and using their phone or listening to music through headphones has more than quadrupled in the past seven years.
Last year alone, 1,152 people were treated for distracted walking in the United States, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That figure is probably a significant underestimate, reports The Los Angeles Times, because doctors and nurses may not ask patients whether they were using their phone when the injury occured.
"We are where we were with cellphone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew it was a problem, but we didn't have the data," Jonathan Akins of the Governors Highway Safety Association told AP.
Some towns have tried to address the issue by banning texting while walking: Fort Lee, N.J., for example, fines residents who are caught doing both acts at the same time.
Some have argued the ban goes too far, but researchers at the University of Maryland have shown that distracted walking can have dire consequences. Their study identified 116 cases, between 2004 and 2011, where pedestrians wearing headphones were seriously injured or killed. During study period, the number of cases tripled.
As The L.A. Times points out, the problem is that people don’t see the problem of walking while distracted. “Most of us think that we can walk and text just fine,” Deborah Netburn writes. Bumping into another is a risk we’re willing to take “for the privilege of telling our dinner date we are ‘here!’ three minutes before actually walking in the door.”
Do you walk and use your phone at the same time? Have you ever been injured while distractedly walking?