One minute John was walking down the street; the next he had been slugged in the face and was on the ground. Had he been mugged? Did a meteorite strike? Had he run into his old 5th grade nemesis Billy "Gonna' Give You a Wedgie" Taylor? The answers: nope, nope, and nope. Simply put, he had unknowingly picked a fight with a telephone pole and lost-badly. John is an example of a disturbing trend sweeping the world: distracted walking. One second you're writing an impassioned love text to that hottie you met last night, the next you're some car's new hood ornament.
As smart devices increasingly move into our lives they seem to be pushing out common sense and awareness. These are roommates you want to keep in your head, not evict. Yet you see it every day. Most people seemingly can't be in public for more than a few minutes without using their smartphones to text, listen to music, play games, stream videos or maybe, just maybe, call someone. Just like any other habit, it only becomes a problem if you start neglecting other aspects of your life. For instance, watching TV makes you stop bathing or going to work just so you can catch marathons of Toddlers and Tiaras.
Recently, a popular video making the rounds online put a spotlight on the very real dangers of distracted walking. On this video, a security camera at a Philadelphia-area train station captured a young man talking on his cell phone. Moments later he loses his balance at the edge of the train platform and falls over the side, landing head first on the tracks. Luckily, no trains were harmed and the man survived. This is just one example of what happens probably hundreds of times a day to oblivious pedestrians distracted by their devices.
According to a recent study by the Associated Press, reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.
The next time you're out, check your surroundings, even if you have to put away your own smart phone to do so. You will notice people of all ages walking with their heads down and unaware of anything but what's on their device's screen. Is that text message or game really more important than your life? Just like when driving a car, you also have to be a defensive walker who is on the lookout for careless individuals. Every day thousands of people put themselves, and others, at great risk due to their smartphone distractions.
Though overall traffic deaths were lower in 2010 than the year before, pedestrian fatalities rose by 4.2 percent and injuries by 19 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's not clear how many of the pedestrian deaths and injuries involved cellphones and other electronics because police often don't collect that information.
If You're Going To Do It Anyway
While we recommend putting your smart device away completely while in public and not following these suggestions in place of staying alert, here are a few apps that could help you stay safe on the streets.
Text Vision - This app allows you to text/email/whatever while 'seeing' what's in front of you at all times by using your device's camera. Your phone's background image shows exactly what the device's built-in camera sees. (iPhone - Full 99¢, Lite Free)
Type-n-Walk- Similar to Text Vision, this app makes the background of your phone a live feed from its camera, which you can type over. (iPhone and Android - 99¢)
WalkSafe- Use your smartphone's camera to keep an eye on traffic and calculate whether there is danger ahead. Once the app has detected potential danger by using a combination of machine-learning and image-recognition algorithms, it will issue a warning in the form of sound and vibrations. (Android - Free)
Textecution- Eliminate the temptation of texting while moving. This app detects when your phone is moving faster than 10 mph and temporarily shuts off the phone's texting feature. (Android - $29.99)
For information on cellphone and texting laws in Louisiana and other states, visit the Governors Highway Safety Association website at www.ghsa.org.
Risk isn't a game so don't play around. Well, unless we were talking about the actual game "Risk" produced by Parker Brothers, but that's beside the point. You can eliminate a lot of danger from your day-to-day life if you merely stay alert. So take a lesson from John, telephone poles don't play well with others. Now stay safe out there.
Jeff Lyons is a co-founder of the national smart device repair company myPhoneMD. Jeff and his team study the latest techniques and technology to keep your smartphone running at peak performance. For smart device service, information and tips, visit http://www.myphonemd.net/