[nfb-talk] Fw: Forget Gum. Walking and Using Phone Is Risky

John G. Heim jheim at math.wisc.edu
Mon Jan 25 15:49:05 UTC 2010

Below is a copy of an article someone forwarded to meabout how dangerous it 
is to walk and use your cell phone. The reason I'm forwarding it is that I 
wwork on the campus of the University of Wisconsin and I can confirm that 
this is a problem. Over the past few years, the number of collisions with 
other pedestrians that I have experienced has increased dramatically. Almost 
without exception, when I have a collision with someone, they're talking on 
a cell phone or listening to an ipod.  Last summer I was hit by a girl on a 
bicycle. She got knocked down and at first I was very apologetic. But then 
on-lookers told me that she was talking on a cell phone when she hit me. So 
she was riding her bike on a crowded sidewalk and talking on her cell phone. 
In retrospect, I think she was lucky she didn't hurt me.

Sent: Monday, January 25, 2010 8:32 AM
Subject: Forget Gum. Walking and Using Phone Is Risky

> Driven to Distraction
> Forget Gum. Walking and Using Phone Is Risky.
> SAN FRANCISCO - On the day of the collision last month, visibility was 
> good. The sidewalk was not under repair. As she walked, Tiffany Briggs, 
> 25, was talking to her grandmother on her cellphone, lost in conversation.
> Very lost.
> "I ran into a truck," Ms. Briggs said.
> It was parked in a driveway.
> Distracted driving has gained much attention lately because of the 
> inflated crash risk posed by drivers using cellphones to talk and text.
> But there is another growing problem caused by lower-stakes multitasking - 
> distracted walking - which combines a pedestrian, an electronic device and 
> an unseen crack in the sidewalk, the pole of a stop sign, a toy left on 
> the living room floor or a parked (or sometimes moving) car.
> The era of the mobile gadget is making mobility that much more perilous, 
> particularly on crowded streets and in downtown areas where multiple 
> multitaskers veer and swerve and walk to the beat of their own devices.
> Most times, the mishaps for a distracted walker are minor, like the 
> lightly dinged head and broken fingernail that Ms. Briggs suffered, a 
> jammed digit or a sprained ankle, and, the befallen say, a nasty case of 
> hurt pride. Of course, the injuries can sometimes be serious - and they 
> are on the rise.
> Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 
> because they got distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while 
> using a cellphone to talk or text. That was twice the number from 2007, 
> which had nearly doubled from 2006, according to a study conducted by Ohio 
> State University, which says it is the first to estimate such accidents.
> "It's the tip of the iceberg," said Jack L. Nasar, a professor of city and 
> regional planning at Ohio State, noting that the number of mishaps is 
> probably much higher considering that most of the injuries are not severe 
> enough to require a hospital visit. What is more, he said, texting is 
> rising sharply and devices like the iPhone have thousands of new, engaging 
> applications to preoccupy phone users.
> Mr. Nasar supervised the statistical analysis, which was done by Derek 
> Troyer, one of his graduate students. He looked at records of emergency 
> room visits compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
> Examples of such visits include a 16-year-old boy who walked into a 
> telephone pole while texting and suffered a concussion; a 28-year-old man 
> who tripped and fractured a finger on the hand gripping his cellphone; and 
> a 68-year-old man who fell off the porch while talking on a cellphone, 
> spraining a thumb and an ankle and causing dizziness.
> Young people injured themselves more often. About half the visits Mr. 
> Troyer studied were by people under 30, and a quarter were 16 to 20 years 
> old. But more than a quarter of those injured were 41 to 60 years old.
> Pedestrians, like drivers, have long been distracted by myriad tasks, like 
> snacking or reading on the go. But the constant interaction with 
> electronic devices has made single-tasking seem boring or even 
> unproductive.
> Cognitive psychologists, neurologists and other researchers are beginning 
> to study the impact of constant multitasking, whether behind a desk or the 
> wheel or on foot. It might stand to reason that someone looking at a phone 
> to read a message would misstep, but the researchers are finding that just 
> talking on a phone takes its own considerable toll on cognition and 
> awareness.
> Sometimes, pedestrians using their phones do not notice objects or people 
> that are right in front of them - even a clown riding a unicycle. That was 
> the finding of a recent study at Western Washington University in 
> Bellingham, Wash., by a psychology professor, Ira Hyman, and his students.
> One of the students dressed as a clown and unicycled around a central 
> square on campus. About half the people walking past by themselves said 
> they had seen the clown, and the number was slightly higher for people 
> walking in pairs. But only 25 percent of people talking on a cellphone 
> said they had, Mr. Hyman said.
> He said the term commonly applied to such preoccupation is "inattention 
> blindness," meaning a person can be looking at an object but fail to 
> register it or process what it is.
> Particularly fascinating, Mr. Hyman said, is that people walking in pairs 
> were more than twice as likely to see the clown as were people talking on 
> a cellphone, suggesting that the act of simply having a conversation is 
> not the cause of inattention blindness.
> One possible explanation is that a cellphone conversation taxes not just 
> auditory resources in the brain but also visual functions, said Adam 
> Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. 
> That combination, he said, prompts the listener to, for example, create 
> visual imagery related to the conversation in a way that overrides or 
> obscures the processing of real images.
> By comparison, walking and chewing gum (that age-old measure of pedestrian 
> skill at multitasking) is a snap.
> "Walking and chewing are repetitive, well-practiced tasks that become 
> automatic," Dr. Gazzaley said. "They don't compete for resources like 
> texting and walking."
> Further, he said, the cellphone gives people a constant opportunity to 
> pursue goals that feel more important than walking down the street.
> "An animal would never walk into a pole," he said, noting survival 
> instincts would trump other priorities.
> For Shalamar Jones, 19, the priority was keeping in touch with her 
> boyfriend. Last month while she was Christmas shopping in a mall near San 
> Francisco, she was texting him when - bam! - she walked into the window of 
> a New York & Company store, thinking it was a door.
> "I thought it was open," she said, noting that no harm was done. "I just 
> started laughing at myself."
> The worst part is the humiliation, said Christopher Black, 20, an art 
> student at San Francisco State University who 18 months ago had his own 
> pratfall.
> At the time, Mr. Black said, the sidewalks were packed with pedestrians. 
> So he decided he could move faster if he walked in the street, keeping 
> close to the parked cars. The trouble is he was also texting - with a 
> woman he was flirting with.
> He unwittingly started to veer into the road, prompting an oncoming car to 
> honk. He said he instinctively jumped toward the sidewalk but, in the 
> process, forgot about the line of parked cars.
> "I splayed against the side of the car, and the phone hit the ground," he 
> said. He and his phone were uninjured, except for his pride. "It was 
> pretty significantly embarrassing."

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