The dangers of distracted driving have sparked new traffic laws for years, and now risks taken by phone-addicted, headphone-wearing pedestrians are coming under increasing scrutiny.
A new study found that 42 percent of pedestrians who crossed midtown Manhattan intersections on a “Don’t Walk” signal were distracted by wearing headphones, talking on a cellphone or looking down at an electronic device. About 28 percent of those crossing on a “Walk” signal also were wearing headphones or using a cellphone.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Community Health, sought to quantify “technology-related distracted pedestrian behavior” at five “dangerous and busy” intersections, all near Penn Station or Times Square. Researchers observed a total of 21,760 pedestrian crossings at different times of the day last April and May.
“Just as using technology while driving is dangerous,” the authors wrote. “Listening to, looking at or talking into an electronic device while walking divides attention and increases the risk of injury. Yet little is known about the frequency of these behaviors.”
The authors noted that a 2013 study found that, between 2005 and 2010, hospital emergency rooms nationwide saw a tenfold increase in injuries related to pedestrians using cellphones, up from 0.37 percent of pedestrian injuries to 3.67 percent.
The latest study’s conclusion: More research should focus on helping pedestrians remain alert to their surroundings, and the public should be made more aware of the dangers of distracted walking.
The problem has hit home locally. Montgomery County officials recently launched a public awareness campaign urging high school students to put down their cellphones and look up when crossing the street. The campaign followed the October 2012 death of 15-year-old Christina Morris-Ward, who was hit as she crossed a street near Seneca Valley High School in Germantown while looking down at her cellphone.