April 4, 2016

Walking & Texting: A New Health Hazard

There is a garage in San Francisco that has become an trap just waiting to grab someone. During a typical day last month, Geoffrey Fowler, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, watched five people being saved by a bystander from serious injury or even death at this one parking structure. Within a few blocks of the garage another 70 or so folks narrowly avoided a trip to the hospital while staring down.

What was the problem? These oblivious folks were texting or watching videos while walking across traffic lanes or streets with lots of cars. The government reports visits to the emergency room involving distracted pedestrians is up over 100% in the last few years. Six people die every year after strolling into the path of a car or truck while checking their smartphone and thousands are injured.

The article mentioned two phrases to describe this behavior that seem on target: "inattentional blindness" and FOMO, the "fear of missing out." These two factors are responsible for cities starting to put up signs warning drivers of distracted walkers; posting signs for the smartphone texters would go unseen. According to the article, New York City has reduced the speed limits on some thoroughfares to lessen injuries, while San Francisco is banning cars completely in parts of downtown to protect its distracted citizens.

None of this surprises me. Watch any group of people and the majority are probably staring at a smartphone or thumbing a message to someone. The average American spends 4.7 hours per day looking down at an electric device in their hands. Once the folly of the young, now anyone of any age is just as likely to be seriously wrapped up in their phone.

A few weeks ago Betty and I were enjoying happy hour at a restaurant with a beautiful, sunny patio. There were four folks, probably our age, seated at the table near us. Except to order more drinks, not once in 45 minutes did any of them talk to one another or enjoy the weather. Their full attention was focused on the 3" screens in front of them. 

Arizona is one of the 25 states that continues to allow texting while driving, except within the city limits of Phoenix and Tucson. So, I am used to seeing someone steering a 3,000 pound hunk of metal while staring at a screen to read or respond to something too urgent to wait. My response is to change lanes or slow down enough to give myself enough time to avoid an accident. But, combine a distracted pedestrian and driver and the stage is set for something bad to happen.

The cell phone industry is looking for ways to protect its customers from themselves. One possibility is a GPS app that locks the screen and warns you to look up when you are close to an intersection. I'd suggest speakers at all crosswalks that yell, "Look Up" or sing "Look to the left, look to the right, look to the left one more time." Hey, it was good enough for your mom to use to keep you safe as a kid. 

I don't have any particular suggestions to protect us from our own self-absorption. As Jimmy Buffett once said, "there is no dumb-a**" vaccine."  Just know that if some person steps off the street corner in the path of your car, the odds are good that you will be to blame, even if he or she was playing Candy Crush. 


Update: a German city has decided to install traffic lights at sidewalk level for people too distracted to keep from hurting themselves and others: Click here




credit smartsign.com

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28 comments:

  1. I agree completely, Bob. That Smart Sign you posted shows what the majority of the people are likely doing on their phones, something narcissistic in most cases like updating their status or taking selfies. The amount of serious work being done by these people is likely quite low. Meanwhile here in TN when a car is drifting over the center line it is almost 100% due to phone usage, either texting or while it is up to their ear and distracting them. Have been almost hit numerous times due to such activity by others.

    Your comment about striking a walker on their phone is spot on. Until the onus is put on the idiots causing the accident, the phone users, and not on the drivers who had no time to react, this activity on busy streets will continue. But I won't hold my breath for that in today's "it's always someone else's fault for my stupid actions" society.

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    1. That's the scariest part of all this, Chuck: where the blame falls for an accident. Even worse must be the feeling of guilt after hurting someone, regardless of whose fault it might be. I would guess that 90% of the people walking across a supermarket parking lot never look either right or left as they cross into the store. They assume that you, the driver, are completely responsible for avoiding them.

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  2. I also agree completely, and you are correct that it is not only younger people who are doing this. Last week I happened to see 3 acquaintances on a short drive back home from the grocery store. None of the three noticed me to give a wave or a nod because they were all looking down while driving! These were all people over 50!! It was rather sad and disturbing to think that these people who I know to be intelligent and caring could be so careless in doing this.

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    1. I will admit to being guilty of looking down at my phone too often. I never text while driving, but I do answer a call, which is stupid and dangerous. The human mind is pretty amazing, but talking on a phone while steering 3,000 pounds of vehicle is pretty dumb.

      I DO NOT use the phone while driving the 12,000 pound RV. Even I am not that silly.

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  3. Several weeks ago, I watched a news segment that highlighted an increase in delayed early childhood development due to parental detachment. Guess what the parents were doing? Yep--looking at their devices. Lots of parents use their devices to "babysit" little ones, too. There's a whole list of potential dangers related to this inappropriate choice. It's a shame that innocent children are suffering due to misuse of technology.

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    1. I get so irritated when I see young mothers pushing their child in a stroller while on the phone. Interact with the child, point out what you both see, watch out for traffic. For heaven's sake what could be so vital someone must talk nonstop while pushing a stroller?

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  4. This reminds me of the time, a few years ago, when a friend of mine was walking in New York City. He looked down the one-way street, saw nothing coming, and stepped off the curb. And he was hit by a car backing up out of a parking space. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt badly, altho' he spent two hours in the hospital and two weeks limping around with a bruised hip. I know it's not the same thing; but it reminds us that the world is a dangerous place, and we have to be vigilant, esp. when it comes to cars.

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    1. Humans and cars don't mix well when meeting. Thanks for that story. I don't think to look for someone coming out of a parking space, or opening a car door right into my path. Now, I will.

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  5. At the entrance to a restaurant near where we live is a sign. The sign says, "We have no WiFi. We suggest you have dinner conversation instead." I love it.

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    1. I have read of some restaurants attempting to ban cell phones...they have gone out of business. We are a stubborn group of people when we come armed with a smartphone.

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  6. One of the reasons I left NY was because of the cars that didn't pay attention to the rules. There's no turning on red in the city. You would never know that. You wouldn't know that cars aren't allowed to speed on West 96th Street where I forget how many innocent pedestrians were killed.

    It was truly sad that "cars not paying attention" was on my top ten list for leaving. But NY's supposed to be a walker's paradise and....This shouldn't be on walkers. Most don't text, and still face death. I wasn't scared for me now but for when I get old.
    Me thinks changing the speed limit was discussed for years---even before smart phones. It was finally implemented under DeBlasio.

    Yes texters are dangerous idiots if they text while crossing the streets. But cars kill.And many drivers flaunt all the rules. "Sorry, we have red on red in___so I thought...."

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    1. Everyone bears responsibility for avoiding harm. But, isn't it easier for a person to pay attention while crossing a street than for a driver to have to constantly anticipate that some bozo will step off the curb without even looking?

      That being said, distracted or sloppy drivers are every bit as dangerous. Most of us who have been driving for decades do it without much conscience thought. That is risky.

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  7. I just drove a new vehicle purchased by a friend of mine with all the latest technology and it beeps if your vehicle goes too close to the lines on either side of the traffic lines...I wondered why anyone would need that beeping to keep them reminded to drive straight...now I get it...it was implemented so folks could text and drive and not run off the road...until we all have that technology in our vehicles, I guess we'll have to use our eyes. I refuse to text, I get tired of seeing folks at our functions sitting at the table and reading their phones rather than chatting with each other...it just feels rude to me...

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    1. I think it is rude, too. When with another person, interact with that person.

      Maybe the move toward self-driving cars is so we can all text and safely stare at a smartphone while in a vehicle!

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  8. I do not understand why this problem was not fixed long ago. All it takes is a federal mandate to include in all new cell phones software/hardware that will disable phones from sending or receiving any message/text while in motion. The only exception is 911. This is easily done.

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    1. It is probably technologically possible, but people wouldn't accept that level of control over their ability to behave dumbly. Heavens, we still allow smoking even though we know it kills tens of thousands of us a year.

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  9. I laugh at the fools walking and texting, oblivious to the world around them. But, we followed a car last week down a 2 lane road that Dave first thought the driver was drunk. I thought he was texting. There were moments of righting the car and some of it was over-righting it, but I think if he had been drunk he wouldn't have been able to right it. We gave him plenty of room and stayed behind him. A state trooper told me once, "if you see a drunk driver don't pass them, stay behind because they aren't going to back into you!" Good advice for texters, too.
    b

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  10. I purposefully disconnected my bluetooth connection from my phone to my car. I do not take calls while I'm driving. If my cell phone rings, I pull over when it is safe and check to see if I need to answer/return the call.

    I used to answer my cell phone using my blue tooth connection, but eventually realized that even though I wasn't holding or looking at the phone, I was still WAY too distracted. Just plain dangerous.

    This past winter while in FL, saw this mother "supervising" her two toddlers who were climbing the rocks on the jetty, in what I would call a dangerous situation. Her eyes were glued to her phone. Nothing bad happened, but it scares me that moms and dads think it is OK to be spending so much screen time while they are with their children.

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    1. Two important reminders, Carole. The "trend" of parents ignoring their kids so they can be on a phone drives me bonkers. Nothing on the phone is even remotely important enough to take time away from protecting, interacting, and loving your kids.

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  11. I wish more people would follow Carole's practice. Recently, while I was driving down a busy four-lane road, a driver turned left across two lanes of traffic directly in front of me. Fortunately, I was driving slowly and was able to slam on my brakes and avoid hitting her. She never even noticed that anything had happened; she was busy talking on her phone. All the research shows that, even when people use hands-free devices, their brain is focused on the call and they literally don't see what is happening around them. But almost everyone seems to think that they are the exception who can do both safely. I never walk anywhere anymore without wearing a neon yellow safety vest, but that only works if the driver happens to look my way. It frustrates me that I could be killed by a driver having some totally inane and unnecessary conversation while driving. If I feel that at risk while taking precautions and paying attention, imagine how at risk your average phone-using pedestrian is. -Jean

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    1. I even have to be careful when Betty and I are food shopping. I have never actually counted, but it seems like half the people pushing carts down the aisles are on the phone. They are oblivious to blocking others from reaching food, they are oblivious to their screaming kids, they are oblivious to that fact that the rest of us don't want to hear one side of an inane conversation that seemingly goes on for hours.

      Are we so afraid of being alone with ourselves for even a little while that we must have a phone glued to our head during all our waking hours? The answer seems to be, Yes.

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  12. Bob, You haven't mentioned yet, a new, obnoxious kind of blogging/vlogging. It's done by a few people, who blog while they are driving their cars! They set up an iPhone on their dashboard and record their post while driving their car. It's ridiculous and downright dangerous. The biggest abuser is this woman called Teri Gigi who does this a lot while she is in Florida (because the laws there do not ban it).
    She has a YouTube account. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK16qq-UX_k
    What do you think?

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    1. Holy mackerel, is she insane? I just watched the video (and posted a comment asking her to check her mental health). That is absurd. Without hurting anyone it might be good if she hits a trash can or a parked car and realizes how totally nuts it is to video blog while driving.

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  13. In the Canadian province where I live, distracted driving is illegal. This law is enforced by the police. There was a recent news story about a fellow who received a ticket and a $180 fine for using his phone while his car was in motion in a fast food drive-through. Although he was outraged, many people who responded to the news story spoke in favour of enforcement and cited horror stories about distracted driving.

    I, of course, read about this news story on my device. I too am guilty of spending too much time looking at my phone or tablet (although not while driving). In our family, we have chosen not to use our devices during meal times and to strictly limit their use when out together walking, shopping, or at social events and so forth. Like you, I have often observed people sitting together at restaurants, but looking at their phones rather than interacting with each other. Recently we observed a young couple who were obviously out on a date together seated at the table next to ours. Throughout the whole meal, one or both of them were on their phones and they didn't speak with each other at all. It sometimes makes me wonder whether people are losing the capacity to develop real world (as opposed to virtual) relationships.

    Jude

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    1. In some U.S. states it is illegal to drive and hold the phone, though Bluetooth connections remain legal. Studies show any distraction, even changing the radio dial, can be dangerous while driving. But, I'm afraid phones are so much a part of life today, that banning phones from automobiles is not likely to happen.

      I agree, Jude, that too many of us have replaced human connections with electronic ones. There are lots of reasons for this, but I find it distressing.

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  14. This is the reason speed limits were reduced in NY--in Paris and London, they've been reduced to 20 mph. These are great walking cities, and cars come from nowhere---i know up close and personal.
    I guess I expect somebody as intelligent as you who is so respected to research---just a bit---before making blanket statements
    http://www.du.edu/ahss/ipps/media/documents/richardsonpm.pdf

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    1. What blanket statement do you think I shouldn't have made?

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