Distracted Walking Joining Distracted Driving as a Source of Teen Injury

A non-profit organization concerned with preventing injuries to children has analyzed data that suggests that a good number of teenagers are being injured as a result of “distracted walking,” the pedestrian equivalent of the dangerous distracted driving that frequently results from engaging in handheld cell phone use and text messaging while driving. Teen pedestrians in the 16 through 19 year old age bracket are experiencing a growing number of injuries, and researchers connected with the Safe Kids Worldwide organization, headquartered in the nation’s capital, sought to determine why.

Highway safety figures show that teen pedestrian deaths were only minimally higher in 1995 than the pedestrian death rate among children between the ages of 5 through 9. By two years ago, teen pedestrians were recorded as dying in traffic accidents at a rate that was over 300% higher than that of such young children, a figure making it clear that it cannot be an anomaly, but must be something with a discernible cause.

Initially, it appeared to make no sense in light of the fact that pedestrian injuries appeared to be dropping among walkers of each and every other age group. In a study, the group first compared the number of teenagers injured as pedestrians in the five year period concluded at the end of 2005 with the following five year period. They found that the number of pedestrian teen injuries expanded by a huge 25% between the two time frames.

Based on statistics about the growing ubiquity of handheld electronic devices ranging from tablet computers to IPods and smart phones among teenagers, the group believes that the rise in injuries may be caused by teens walking while being distracted, not watching where they are going, but instead stepping out into traffic while engrossed in reading text messages or watching music videos on tiny screens.

Distracted walking may be dovetailing with motorists’ distracted driving to greatly enhance the risk of death or serious injury to teen pedestrians. When a driver not looking at the road because he is reading a text message meets a walking teenager playing a videogame on an IPad who wanders into the path of traffic, there is an instant recipe for disaster.

Statistics gathered in another study revealed that cell phone ownership among teens and other young people mushroomed from 2005 to 2010. This and the use of other electronic devices has led to an environment in which teenagers receive or send 110 text messages daily—on average. This may be astonishing news to many of their parents who use them infrequently, or, in some cases, not at all.

Researchers who studied pre-teens crossing a street in a simulated street exercise found that those asked to talk on a cell phone while doing so paid much less attention to looking for traffic, and on a real street would have walked right into an accident with an oncoming car far more often.

Cell phones, smart phones, IPods, IPads, and other handheld electronic devices are not about to go away. Instead, they have rapidly become an expected feature of daily life on the streets. This puts all the more burden on responsible motorists to exercise care and anticipate the presence of electronically mesmerized teenagers crossing the road.

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