Nearly one in three pedestrians is distracted by a mobile device while crossing a busy street, and texting appears to be the most distracting and potentially most dangerous activity, according to a new study.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Injury Prevention, looked at pedestrians crossing 20 busy intersections in Seattle in the summer of 2012. It concluded that nearly one out of three pedestrians was engaged in some distracting activity, including taking on the phone, listening to music, talking with others, or dealing with children or pets.
Pedestrians who were texting took, on average, 2 seconds longer to cross busy streets and were less likely to pay attention to traffic while doing it.
Locally, one such pedestrian recently faced fatal consequences.
The conductor of an Amtrak train traveling southbound at 40 mph in Ventura County in September 2012 began sounding the warning horn when a pedestrian did not make any attempt to get off the tracks.
According to witnesses, the woman appeared to be looking down at her cell phone while walking northbound on the tracks. The conductor was unable to stop the train, and the 28-year-old woman was struck and killed, according to the Ventura County Medical Examiner.
Asked about the potential danger dangers of distracted walking, one student near University of Southern California likened the risks to being behind the wheel.
"It’s one of those things where it’s like driving a car and eating a hamburger," the student said.
Distracted drivers took the lives of more than 3,000 people in 2010, according to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, which has an ongoing initiative related to the issue. Cell phone use was reported in 18 percent of all distraction-related fatalities, according to the NTHSA.
State legislatures have taken notice.
Handheld cell phone use while driving is banned in 10 states and the District of Columbia and texting while driving is banned in 39 states, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The authors of the distracted pedestrian study recommend studying intervention efforts to reduce the risk of pedestrian injury. They suggest an approach similar to the "don’t drink and drive" campaign.