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Do You Walk and Talk on Your Cell Phone At the Same Time?

Walking and cell phone talking

Raise your hand if you walk and talk on your cell phone at the same time. New research indicates that lots of people are getting injured when they walk and talk on their cell phone, and that the true number may be much greater than reported.

Multitasking is not always a good thing

Talking or texting on your cell phone while you are walking may seem like a great way to accomplish several tasks at once. You can get your exercise, proceed toward your destination, and also catch up with friends, stay in touch with the office or clients, or keep in contact with your family.

However, a new report in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention notes that more than 1,500 people in 2010 required treatment in emergency rooms in the United States because they were injured while walking and talking on their cell phone. The number of total injuries associated with walking and cell phone use has increased more than twofold over the past 10 years.

According to Jack Nasar, a co-author of the study and professor of city and regional planning at The Ohio State University, and his colleagues, their analysis revealed or suggested some other interesting items:

  • People ages 16 to 25 were the ones most likely to be injured because of cell phone use
  • The number of pedestrians admitted to a hospital because of a cell phone injury has increased every year since 2005
  • The actual number of injuries related to walking and talking on a cell phone could be much higher

The authors believe this last point is true because they think there is a better way to use the available data to calculate the risks. They used data from the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), but they suggest information collected from emergency rooms will provide a more accurate figure.

For example, the investigators compared data regarding injuries among drivers who were distracted while using their cell phones. The data came from the CPSC and from emergency rooms.

They found that the actual number of crash-related injuries involving cell phone use is more than 1,300 times the figure estimated by the CPSC. At the current time, there’s no comparable set of data to determine the number of pedestrian injuries related to talking on a cell phone.

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However, the researchers ventured an estimate, saying that as many as 2 million injuries related to walking and talking on a cell phone could have occurred in 2010. While Nasar noted “It is impossible” to say for sure if the 2 million figure is realistic, “it is safe to say that the numbers we have are much lower than what is really happening.”

Also read about meditation and multitasking

Talking on a cell phone and driving
Another new study appearing in Accident Analysis and Prevention explored how much drivers are distracted while on a cell phone. Using a driving simulator, the researchers evaluated a person’s decision to talk on a cell phone while driving and the consequences of that decision, also taking into account various road conditions.

The researchers found:

  • Drivers were more likely to answer a call than to initiate one
  • Middle-aged drivers were least likely to experience any harmful effects related to talking while driving than were younger and older drivers
  • Younger drivers were not sensitive to road conditions when deciding whether to talk on their phone

A 2010 study from the University of Utah reported that only 2.5 percent of the population can successfully perform two activities simultaneously. In the study, the two activities evaluated were talking on a cell phone and using a driving simulator.

Overall, among the 200 participants, the researchers found that braking time was 20 percent longer, following distances increased 30 percent, and memory abilities decline 11 percent when subjects were talking while driving. These declines in performance were comparable to those seen among drunk drivers.

Whether you are behind the wheel or ambulating, talking on a cell phone appears to pose some risk of injury because of distraction. Rather than walk and talk on a cell phone, it may be better to smell the roses and watch where you are going, or at least stop when you want to take or make a call, especially when approaching a street crossing.

Nasar JL, Troyer D. Pedestrian injuries due to mobile phone use in public places. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2013 Aug; 57: 91-95
Tractinsky N et al. To call or not to call—that is the question (while driving). Accident Analysis and Prevention 2013 Jul; 56:59-70
Watson JM, Strayer DL. Supertaskers: profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2010 Aug; 17(4): 479-85

Image: Morguefile