Texting while walking, is it dangerous?

BALTIMORE - One day, and if you believe the Mayan calendar, it's coming soon, but one day, whoever they are may look back on the latter days of our culture and refer to us as the people of the screen.

IPhones, Pods, Pads; tablets, PDA's and MP3 players, music, email, those disgruntled birds, texting.

More often than not, many of us spend more time than we like to admit in mid-face plant with our mobile devices....until we finally look up.

[Do you ever have your face in your phone, texting and say woah! I am in the middle of the street?] Yeah, sometimes," responded downtown Baltimore pedestrian Kavonne Norman.

It happens quite often.

You need spend no more than ten minutes downtown before you see more than a few examples of it.

Multi-tasking is generally a positive quality, distraction though is a different characteristic altogether.

"Especially my oldest one, she texts all the time," said pedestrian Carla Clack., [Have you ever walked into a place where you didn't know where you were at or bumped into something?]  I've bumped into a few things but usually I will look up every few seconds.  [Do you see it's possible that you are texting and then you step into the road without realizing it?]  Yes."

Actually, that danger is more than possible.

A look at pedestrian accidents in the Baltimore city and most surrounding counties revealed in 2010 and 2011 combined, there were more than three thousand pedestrian involved crashes.

Of the more than one thousand that faulted the pedestrian, 331cases were because of what the police report called inattentive or distracted pedestrians.

Many police reports indicate cell phones as the source of said distraction; however, it is not an exact stat the state keeps. 

There is no box to check on a police report to imply texting while walking, but that leads experts to believe that it is happening even more as we become more addicted to and distracted by our mobile devices.

"Yeah, absolutely," responded Dr. Keisha Pollack with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, "So the data that you have looks at crashes reported to the police and people aren't always forthcoming about whether or not they were on a phone or distracted."

Pollack believes pedestrian at fault accidents because of cell phone distraction is an underreported problem; she and her team just started studying the issue and are finding it is indeed a problem that will need to be addressed.

"We've done research here at Hopkins on the undergrad campus and at the school of public health on pedestrian and we talked to people and they mentioned that there are many times they are distracted on their phones texting or emailing and just not realizing where they are at the moment until the car beeps at them and they have to step back onto the curb," said Pollack.

Solutions though, are still a bit down the road.

Pollack says New York has attempted but failed to pass a law against distracted pedestrians, evidence texting and walking is beginning to pop up on the radar in pedestrian heavy areas like downtowns and college campuses.

Solutions could be laws, fines or traffic engineering to lower the risk of deadly accidents, all of it now on the table and being studied as this issue starts to get discussed.

"I think we can do more to try to prevent policies, change the environment, educate and just help to increase awareness of this issue.  [Or unplug every once in a while?]  Or unplug, exactly," responded Pollack.

It is an unlikely solution in our new digital and distracted world, but still a helpful tip to avoid being a number in what is becoming a new statistic.

Doctor Pollack sits on Baltimore city's new Transportation Safety Task Force created by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Pollack says distracted pedestrians are definitely an issue she plans to raise as the task force looks for solutions.

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