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Sharp Health News

Distracted walking can lead to injury, even death

Feb. 3, 2016

Distracted walking

When you think of safety risks in the workplace, you may think of slippery floors or lifting injuries.

But according to Don Carl, senior safety management specialist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, cell phones and other portable electronic devices can be downright dangerous when in the hands of a distracted walker.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), the number of injuries to people walking while using their phones has more than doubled since 2004. In fact, AAOS found that more than a quarter of participants in a study of this trend say they have experienced injuries due to distracted walking.

The National Safety Council reports that the rise in distracted walking injuries parallels the eight-fold increase in cellphone use in the last 15 years. The findings compelled the council to remind people that it is just as important to be alert while walking as it is while driving.

“On a daily basis, I witness people distracted by talking on their phones, texting, reading emails and listening to music,” says Carl. “Not only are they at risk for personal physical injury, they also could hurt another person in their path, find themselves at the wrong location and could end up with a bad case of ‘text-neck,’” a new term used to describe neck pain and strain sustained from looking down at your cellphone frequently and for prolonged periods.

Although text-neck is not life-threatening, technology-related distracted walking can be. On Christmas Day in 2015, a 33-year-old man visiting San Diego fell to his death at Sunset Cliffs. Witnesses say he was looking down at a hand-held device and wasn't watching where he was going as he walked along the side of the cliff.

His death is not an anomaly as cities across the country have reported a rise in injuries and deaths due to distracted walkers who walked into traffic, stumbled off curbs, fell down stairs, tumbled head first into fountains and even went right off a train platform.

While distracted walking seems like an obviously poor choice, Carl says he still finds the need to remind us to keep the following in mind:

  • Be continually aware of your surroundings.
  • Stop walking and find a safe area to use your phone to talk, text or email.
  • Avoid earphone or headphone use while walking, especially in high-traffic areas.
  • Before crossing the street, look both ways for oncoming car and bicycle traffic. Make eye contact with motorists and cyclists before crossing.
  • Use handrails when walking up and down the stairs.

“It’s equally important to watch out for others,” Carl says. “Speak up when you see someone who is distracted while walking and putting themselves and those around them in danger.”

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