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Out of the Ordinary

Distracted walking becoming bigger problem than ever

Cell phones mainly to blame for distracted walking

Recently, a young man talking on his cell phone along the edge of a train platform at night lost his balance and fell head first on the tracks. He fortunately was able to escape before any trains arrived, but the incident helps put a picture to a growing problem in America: distracted walking.

Cell phones are a large source of the problem, as someone talking on the phone, texting while looking down, playing a game or listening to music is much more likely to become a victim to distracted walking.

Distracted walking injuries have reportedly quadrupled in the past seven years, and these numbers are still most likely underreported. A spike in pedestrians injured and killed in traffic accidents has also occurred, although there is no concrete data on how many of these incidents were caused by electronics.

 “We are where we were with cell phone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew it was a problem, but we didn’t have the data,” said Jonathan Akins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, an organization which represents state highway safety offices.

Still, U.S. officials are struggling on figuring out how to combat distracted walking, but some are still questioning how far the government should intervene.

On April Fools’ Day, Philadelphia officials actually created an “e-lane” for distracted walking and drivers on their cell phone.

 “The sad part is we had people who, once they realized we were going to take the e-lane away, got mad because they thought it was really helpful to not have people get in their way while they were walking and texting,” Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities, said.

A University of Maryland study found 116 cases over six years in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured as a result of wearing headphones and distracted walking. Two-thirds of the victims were men under age 30. Half the cases involved trains. 

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