Ever notice how people who walk while texting seem a little tipsy? You’re watching someone trying to do an impossible task – multitask. Using a cell phone and trying to do another cognitive and manual task results in inattention blindness. So it follows that using a cellphone while walking changes the way we walk for the worse, a British study recently found.

The study, led by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University in England, fitted subjects with mobile eye trackers to monitor their gaze, and motion analysis sensors to track the way they walked. Researchers then sent their subjects off to navigate their way over an obstacle while writing a text, reading a text, talking on the phone and while not using a phone at all. From the Newsweek article on this distracted walking study:

They found that people who were using a phone were less attentive toward the obstacle before them: they looked at it for up to 61 percent less time compared to those who didn’t use a phone. At the same time, their walking style became more cumbersome: as they approached the obstacle, they adopted “a cautious and exaggerated stepping strategy.” Walkers moving while writing a text—the most disruptive activity—raised their lead foot 18 percent higher and moved it 40 percent more slowly.

A researcher at Western Washington University here in our very own Bellingham also conducted a distracted walking study, pairing a clown with a unicycle on a jaunt through campus to see who would notice, and who was too engrossed in their phone. This was almost ten years ago, and phones have only gotten even more ubiquitous since then!

The research is important because it may help explain the link between using a phone while walking and personal injury. The study notes that 78 percent of cellphone related injuries listed in the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) for emergency departments between 2000 and 2011 were the result of falls. Though this YouTube video is of “texting while walking videos” you can easily see how personal injury could result.

Interestingly, to combat the epidemic of distracted walking hitting China, one Chinese city designated a separate footpath for those who wish to walk while on their phone. Though Bellingham has some cutting edge bike lanes, I doubt we’ll be seeing any designated distracted walking paths any time soon.

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