Is texting while walking the next prohibited activity?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bicycling on a path around a mountain lake, we tried to remember, and employ our best skiing etiquette when approaching a jogger from the rear.

"On your left!"

He gave no response as he continued to run down the middle of the pavement.

"Oh, he's wearing earphones," a companion observed as we swerved far to the left to avoid a collision.

Had we been driving or riding a motorcycle on a busy highway, the outcome might have been different.

Portable music has been a boon to exercise since Sony invented the Walkman, and nothing can ease the pain and boredom of plodding away the miles better than your favorite tunes.

But putting in the hours on a treadmill at the Y are one thing and jogging miles on the streets and roads are quite another. Turn that Walkman into a full-fledged computer requiring two-way interaction and concentration on things like text, stocks, e-mail, weather reports and Facebook postings, and you've got a real distraction.

We've enacted laws concerning cell phone usage while driving -- to varying degrees and with varying success -- but are similar laws covering walking on the way next?

Let's hope not; our legislators have more important things to do. And, laws are slow to keep up with the latest technological distraction.

Still, don't be surprised if someone tries to legislate texting while walking.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. last year for injuries suffered while walking and using a cellphone or some other electronic device.

That's likely an underestimate, according to Joan Lowy of the Associated Press, who writes that patients are reluctant to mention that they were distracted by electronics at the time of the injury, or doctors or nurses may neglect to include the information in their report.

Some of the cases that did get reported included a 28-year-old man who fell into a ditch while talking on a cellphone, a 12-year-old boy who was looking at a video game when he was clipped by a pickup truck as he crossed the street, and a 53-year-old woman who fell off a curb while texting and lacerated her face. A 67-year-old man walking along the side of a road was hit by a bicyclist who was talking on a cellphone as he rode.

There is real reason for concern. While overall traffic deaths were lower in 2010 than the year before, pedestrian fatalities rose by 4.2 percent and injuries by 19 percent, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The AP story also mentioned anecdotal evidence such as a viral video of a texting woman who falls into a fountain in a Philadelphia shopping mall, and a man who nearly bumps into a black bear while texting in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood.

And, despite those who brag of their "multitasking" ability, new psychological studies show people actually just shift their attention rapidly back and forth between two or more tasks.

While it may be tempting to try to legislate common sense, that's the only thing that can truly keep people safe on the street.

Until that becomes more common, taking advantage of facilities like McCook's walking trail system -- to avoid texting and chatting drivers -- is one of the best possible solutions.

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    Not trying to be mean...but I bet those people who received an injury don't engage in those simultaneous activities again.

    Common sense isn't given, it is earned.

    I wonder if the CSP will start to regulate stapler use? It is alarming to learn that the reported number of people who staple their own body parts is on the rise. Heavens, something should be done. We need another law.

    -- Posted by Mickel on Sat, Aug 4, 2012, at 12:00 PM
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