Walk, Talk, Tumble: The Danger of Texting While Walking

A student looks down at their phone while walking. Texting while walking has become a dangerous epidemic in a phone-obsessed world.

Photo by Caleb Byrne

On your way to your next class, I challenge you to count the number of people who have their heads in their phones and aren’t looking where they’re going. If my own experience holds any merit, you’ll likely see dozens of students with their heads angled steeply towards the floor. Often, I’ll see these distracted walkers crash into doors, poles, people, etc. However, I don’t feel bad for them. Walking and texting is unnecessary and far more harmful than you may realize. Letting ourselves be so distracted by our phones lowers the bar for how we function on a daily basis and we owe it to ourselves not to let that happen.

According to information from a Governors Highway Safety Association report, around 6,000 pedestrians were killed across the US by motor vehicles in 2017. A large number of these deaths have been attributed to the rise in distracted walking. Since cell phones have become more accessible, many find it increasingly difficult to put them away long enough to complete even basic tasks. Society has taken a hard stance against this issue with texting and driving. It’s a behavior that has been branded as inappropriate and immature. The rally against the use of cell phones inside of motor vehicles makes the inaction against texting and walking all the more confusing. Neglecting to check one’s surroundings while walking is just as significant a safety hazard for both drivers and pedestrians.

Distracted pedestrians isn’t an isolated issue. The intense and all-consuming use of cell phones that is now commonplace is a concerning trend in how we interact with the supercomputers in our pockets. I frequently find myself checking my phone for notifications that I know don’t exist as an excuse to unlock my device. As the usage of smartphones continues to rise, this issue will only grow. Statistics from Pew Research Center show that roughly three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone. 77 percent of surveyed Americans expressed that they considered cell phone use while walking down the street to be “generally ok.”

This is usually the response to criticisms about distracted walking. It’s not seen as an equal danger to distracted driving and therefore is a non issue in comparison. It can be argued that walking doesn’t carry the same weight as driving when it comes to potential harm, but just because a majority of Americans believe texting and walking to be acceptable, that doesn’t make it any safer or less disruptive. Within our own school, people with their heads hanging over their phones slow down foot traffic and have probably bumped into you while they neglected to look where they’re going. I say neglected because while phones are certainly an addictive, it takes minimal self control to wait to respond to a notification until you’re no longer walking. “When you text and walk, you effectively say to the world that [their] time doesn’t matter, only [your] time matters,” says Sam Brinda, a senior at Franklin and a frequent motorist. “It slows people down that are trying to get places and I think it should be taken as an insult by people surrounding or behind this person.” We owe it to both ourselves and the people around us to disengage from our screens and pay attention to what’s going on.

It’s also important to remember that teenagers aren’t the only ones who are influenced by phones in this way. Adults have just as much responsibility to stay aware of their surroundings. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the 16-24 age demographic reported the highest phone usage while driving, the 25-69 age range still engaged in the same kinds of distracted behaviors. The NHTSA also found that in 2017, 3,166 people were killed as the result of distracted driving. While driving and walking are different activities that carry vastly different risks, the principle is still the same. By prioritizing our distractions above something as basic as looking where we’re going, we make a choice to be unsafe and in that accept the potential consequences which, thankfully, are often limited to looking like a tool.

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