You see the warnings everywhere – Don’t text and drive. A new warning is about to get a lot of attention – Don’t text and walk. We know we should watch where we’re walking but with the world at our fingertips it’s easy to get distracted.
And teenagers are particularly vulnerable to keeping their eyes glued to their cell phone or tablet instead of watching where they are going.
A new report shows that in recent years, pedestrian injuries among 16 to 19 year-olds increased 25 percent. Teens aged 14 to 19 made up half of all child pedestrian injuries, according to the report from SafeKids, a global non-profit organization focused on preventing injuries among children.
The study, “Walking Safely: A Report to the Nation”, took snapshot views of pedestrian death and injury among five year intervals from 1995 through 2010 and looked at age groups 0 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14 and 15 to 19. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau, SafeKids found that the death rate among older teens is now twice that of younger kids, with 1.11 deaths per 100,000 members of the population as opposed to .47, .33, and .45 in the other cohorts respectively.
While the report, sponsored by FedEx, doesn’t break down how many of those were using mobile devices at the time of injury, Kate Carr, president and CEO of SafeKids Worldwide, says she believes that’s what is driving the rise in injuries.
“In addition to the increase in pedestrian injuries we saw among older teenagers, we also examined numerous outside reports about how much mobile use has increased among teens, “ she says. “We know that the average number of texts per teen has risen dramatically. Couple that with drivers who are talking on the phone or texting, and you have distracted people on both sides of the equation. Our hypothesis is that the rise in injuries among these older teens is caused by their dramatic increase in their cell phone use.”
Some states are so concerned about pedestrians getting hurt while texting and walking they have created bills banning it. If you’re caught texting and walking you can receive a hefty fine. Other states are opting for educational campaigns warning adults and kids of the dangers.
Most of the injuries involved are twisted or broken ankles, head bumps, concussions and lacerations. But, there have also been cases of distracted kids and adults walking into traffic and falling from train platforms. One young man almost walked into a bear!
Experts say that texting or talking on a cell phone while walking or driving takes your attention off the environment around you. It shifts your focus from driving, or what is in front of - or around you, to images your mind creates from conversation.
September and October, when kids have headed back to school and it’s still warm enough to walk in many places, are among the deadliest months according to the SafeKids report.
Andrea Gielen, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, has worked extensively on pedestrian safety for high school and college campuses across the country and recommends parents begin teaching safe walking habits early. For starters, don't let kids cross the street until they are at least 10 without an adult so they can see parents modeling good behavior. (Which means parents have to put down their phones too!)
And Gielen reminds parents to teach their children that they can’t necessarily rely on drivers to be paying attention. Kids, she says, need to learn how to be safe pedestrians just like they learn to be safe drivers in driver’s education classes.
Her golden three rules for all pedestrians:
- Follow all street signs and cross with the light.
- Always put your phone down or in your pocket before you step off the curb.
- Make eye contact with the driver before you cross.
While driving and texting is still one of the most hazardous things a person can do, walking and texting is beginning to be a serious problem too. With an overabundance of apps available, and friends holding cybernetic conversations, more and more kids are tapping on their cell phones and walking into that pole or car right in front of them.
Talk to your child about texting and walking, maybe try some experiments at home, to help them realize there can be unexpected and dangerous consequences.