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San Diego Union-Tribune: Mobile phone distractions add risks to walking

This article from The San Diego Union-Tribune talks about a growing trend – distracted walking. People on foot in Orlando need to be aware of their surroundings at all times to ensure their safety.


By Lyndsay Winkley  January 3, 2016

Most of us are guilty of it. We check our email while rushing down the sidewalk, or send text messages on our way down the stairs. Yet that behavior is more dangerous than we realize.

The Christmas death of Joshua Burwell, who witnesses said was on an electronic device when he fell from Sunset Cliffs, highlights the risks of distracted walking, an increasingly common behavior that a growing body of research is labeling as dangerous.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are smart phone owners now, according to a Pew Research study, so it may not come as a surprise that injuries related to their use are on the rise.

According to a study of emergency room records published in 2013, more than 1,150 injuries were attributed to ne use in 2010, compared to only 256 in 2005. Researchers suspect the actual number of distracted walking injuries was even higher, since patients might not mention they were hurt while on a cellphone. Injuries may not require a trip to the hospital, either.

Injuries have become so common that for the first time this year, the National Safety Council included distracted walking in its 2015 report on unintentional deaths and injuries. According to the publication, distracted walking incidents accounted for more than 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011.

More people are starting to acknowledge the behavior is an issue — a serious issue, according to a December survey published by the American Academy of OrthopaedicSurgeons.

“It’s a problem. I’m guilty of this sort of behavior too, we all are, but we all have to change. That’s the bottom line,” said Alan Hilibrand, a spokesman for the group.

Of about 2,000 adults that participated in the survey, about 78 percent considered distracted walking a somewhat serious or very serious issue. About 1 in 5 people felt it was just as another modern danger, distracted driving.

Hilibrand said doctors across the nation have noticed an uptick in injuries related to distracted walking, and although most incidents bruise the ego more than the body, victims can be seriously injured or killed, Hilibrand said.

Witnesses said Joshua Burwell, 33, who was visiting from Indiana, was looking at a device in his hands when he fell from the cliffs last week.

Police pieced together that Burwell had met a woman at a coffee shop days before his death and that neither had plans for Christmas. They decided to celebrate the holiday together by watching the sun set from Sunset Cliffs.

When they arrived, however, the picturesque spot was packed. The woman couldn’t find a parking spot, so she dropped off Burwell, who wanted to photograph the moment, police determined.

By the time she made it back, emergency vehicles were crowding the streets. Burwell had fallen 40 feet to his death. Lifeguards recovered the man’s body, but weren’t able to retrieve the device, which could have been a camera, but was likely his cellphone, said San Diego Lifeguard Bill Bender.

It’s not the first San Diego death attributed to “distracted walking.” In January 2014, a 15-year-old girl was using her cellphone when she walked into the path of a semi-truck in Otay Mesa. Her brother tried to pull his sister away but she lost her balance and fell under the big rig’s rear wheels.

Chris Cochran, spokesman for the state Office of Traffic Safety, said there is a limited but growing body of research that shows pedestrians using cellphones just aren’t great at walking. People slow down, go off course, and have trouble accurately perceiving distances.

“People are sort of losing the ability to just walk,” Cochran said. “There are so many things people do with cellphones that they are on them constantly. They’re talking and texting, but they’re also Angry Bird-ing and Facebook-ing and checking their stocks. It’s becoming a normal part of life and people aren’t realizing the dangers involved.”

Unlike driving while on a cellphone, though, distracted walking isn’t a crime. But law enforcement and state officials are hoping to curb the behavior through education.

“We have laws about distracted driving, but there’s no real ability to regulate what people are doing while they’re walking down the street,” Hilibrand said. “The only way to really have an impact on this problem, and it is a problem, is to raise public awareness.”

San Diego police Officer Emilio Ramirez said unaware pedestrians are a common sight now, likening the phenomenon to a photograph he saw on Facebook that compared people fixated on their cellphones to zombies during an apocalypse.

“They’ll cross the street unaware of what’s going on because they are so engrossed with that device in their hands,” he said.

The department has always pushed pedestrian safety, Ramirez said, placing special attention on putting phones away while walking, especially when talking to young people.

“We tell the young teens and kids… that when texting or surfing the internet or playing a video game they aren’t aware of the possible dangers they could encounter,” he said.

Last October, the state rolled out its first pedestrian safety campaign after acknowledging a steady increase in pedestrian deaths and injuries. Discouraging distraction is a big part of that safety message, Cochran said.

“More people are distracted — distracted while driving and distracted while walking,” he said. “We think that’s causing a lot more pedestrian fatalities.”

The campaign, which was launched in Sacramento, is expected to go statewide later this year.

See the original article, here.

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