Texting or chatting while walking, the new phone addiction you need to stop

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James Wanzala , Reporter for the Standard Group (StandardMedia, StandardDigital News)
20th Jan 2019 00:00:00 GMT +0300

You might have been hit by a person busy chatting or texting as he or she walked along the street. Or, you might have seen someone hitting a pole, a transparent window or falling into a pool of water while using the phone while walking. This is the new smartphone addiction that experts are warning is costing people their lives or leaving them with injuries. Experts now say distracted walking is a growing problem around the globe, as people of all ages become more dependent on electronic devices for social and professional engagements. The advent of smartphones that comes with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has accelerated this problem. Multitasking is common, and can be dangerous if one is not careful. “The phone distracts you from minding your safety while walking. We used to call out the youth for this behaviour but now it spans nearly all age groups,” says Sam Wambugu, an information specialist. Authorities in some countries have come up with laws to curb texting or chatting while walking. In South Australia for instance, the Under the Road Traffic Act states that a person “must not walk without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road,” lest they face a $105 (Sh10,500) fine.

Banned texting

In 2012, Fort Lee, a municipality in New Jersey, banned texting while walking. Violations come with an $85 (Sh8,500) ticket. Back home, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) traffic rules only prohibit a driver from using a phone while driving, which sets him back Sh2,000. According to a study published in 2012 by researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University, 60 per cent of people texting while walking veered off their walking path. Over a decade’s time, texting and walking has caused more than 11,100 injuries. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths numbered 5,376 — and were the only group of road users whose fatality numbers increased. A report from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also revealed that 78 per cent of American adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue — but only 29 per cent owned up to doing it themselves. Our brains have evolved to focus attention on primarily one task at a time, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as inattention blindness. Wambugu adds: “People get carried away while texting and miss their flight at the airport because they become oblivious of their surroundings despite repeated calls to board the plane. Some people text while riding on a fast-moving boda boda, possibly another reason for increased road accidents.” Sociologist Kiemo Karatu agrees that chatting and texting while walking is a life risk and a solution must be found. “A lot of us are oblivious of the dangers we are exposing ourselves to. Inability to know when to stop doing two things at the same time is the challenge,” says Karatu. He proposes creating awareness probably through posters on the dangers of using one’s phone while walking. The Washington DC-based Safe Kids Worldwide organisation report dubbed Walking Safely, A Report to the Nation in 2012 found that pedestrian deaths among teens aged 15 to 19 now account for about 50 per cent of pedestrian fatalities. The study discovered that one in five high school students were found crossing the street distracted either by texting, playing video games or listening to music. “We suspect one cause of this disturbing trend is distraction; since the increase in teen injuries seems to correlate with the prevalence of cell phone use, both among walkers and drivers,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Just like children at school are taught how to wash their hands regularly to stay healthy, Wambugu says healthy use of the now ubiquitous mobile phones and other hand held devices may be an important addition.