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Distracted Walking a Major Pedestrian Safety Concern

Are you guilty of distracted walking? If you own a mobile phone, the answer is probably yes. Who hasn’t taken a quick glance down at their phone to see the latest text message, email or notification as soon as their phone buzzes? A problem arises when we start to fiddle with our phones while walking. As soon as you start looking at your phone — rather than where your feet are taking you — you run the risk of injuring yourself by running into other people, walls, trash cans, light poles or even cars. Pedestrian injuries and deaths are on the rise in general, making it more important than ever to stay alert and avoid texting while walking. 


Distracted Walking Statistics

The CDC reports that in 2017, approximately 137,000 individuals were treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. for injuries sustained in pedestrian traffic accidents. Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in such accidents. But how many of those injuries or deaths can be attributed to distracted walking? 

The answer is unclear, mainly because distracted walking statistics have not been extensively collected for analysis. However, a 2018 study published in Transfers Magazine indicated that 5.7% of observed pedestrians texted, 3.7% wore headphones and 2.9% talked on the phone while crossing the street. The groups most likely to cross outside of the crosswalk zone were the pedestrians who texted and talked on their phones, indicating that distracted walking served as a risk factor for other risky behavior.

Researchers from the University of Calgary published the results of their observational study of pedestrian behavior in 2019. They focused on the distracted walking tendencies of high school students and found that nearly 20% were distracted. Most of the distracted teenagers were using earbuds, but another common distraction was texting while walking. However, a 2018 study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention found texting to be the biggest distractor among their observed population. The authors noted that texting while walking caused pedestrians to look left and right less often than pedestrians who were not walking and texting.

Although this data has not been directly compared or correlated to accidents, it does indicate that people talking and texting on their phones are more likely to engage in risky behavior while walking, including crossing outside of the crosswalk and failing to remain aware of their surroundings. 


How to Avoid a Text-While-Walking Accident

Numerous risk factors exist for pedestrian traffic accidents, and some aren’t within our control when we walk. However, many risk factors are within the pedestrian’s control. Here, we outline a few ways to avoid pedestrian accidents. 

  • Always cross the road at crosswalks or intersections with traffic lights.
  • Obey traffic signals.
  • Ensure your headphone volume is at a level that allows you to hear any potential dangers.
  • Do not wear noise-canceling headphones while walking.
  • Do not turn your music up too loud when wearing earbuds.
  • Wear clothing with high-visibility reflectors or carry a flashlight if walking at night.

It’s also important to remain alert while walking and to not get distracted by your phone. But if you simply cannot wait to take that phone call or check your email, try these tips to lower the risk of distracted walking:

  • Hold your phone up higher so you aren’t looking down and can better see any dangers.
  • Look up from your device frequently while you walk.
  • Use read-back and voice recognition software to read and create messages.

Finally, children should be instructed in proper street-crossing behavior from a young age, and again when they receive their first devices. Teach your children that phones shouldn’t be used while walking, and try to set a good example by keeping your phone tucked away while you walk too.



Distracted walking has the potential to be fatal, which is why it deserves serious attention. We have a strong urge to look at our phones as soon as we get a notification, but it’s important to understand that there’s a time and a place for doing so safely. Just as you should not text while driving, the best thing to do is to keep your phone stowed while walking. It could save your life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Distracted Walking

Frequently Asked Questions About Distracted Walking

How can I prevent getting distracted while walking?

Always keep your eyes up and look where you’re going. If you need to check your phone, the safest thing to do is to step away from other pedestrians. To avoid the temptation of using your phone, don’t hold it in your hand while you walk. Instead, keep it tucked in your purse or in your pocket. Try to stay in the present moment and be aware of what’s happening in front of you.

Why do we get distracted?

Scientists offer several different hypotheses for why we get distracted. Distraction could actually be our brain’s way of helping us stay alert to dangers in our environment, but this doesn’t explain why we focus so heavily on our phones to the point of actually ignoring dangers around us. Distracted walking and texting might be better explained by the hypothesis that we get distracted in order to seek pleasure.

What are some hazards I can encounter when walking?

If you don’t look where you’re going, you might encounter trip hazards such as broken sidewalks, physical barriers, or other pedestrians. If you step out onto the road without looking both ways first, you may collide with cyclists or motorists.

Are there laws against distracted walking?

In some areas, yes, distracted walking is illegal. Walking while texting could earn you a fine in Honolulu, Hawaii; Rexburg, Idaho; and Montclair, California, for example. So far, texting-while-walking laws are only present at municipal levels and have not been enacted at the state level.

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