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New BMJ study points out perils of texting while walking

Texting while walking is becoming as prolific a problem as distracted driving, and one that suggests the need for similar intervention.

A new study by the British Medical Journal's Injury Prevention group revealed that almost one in three pedestrians is distracted by a mobile device while crossing busy streets.

While some incidents of texting while walking can certainly garner a few laughs (see video, top), the situation is often far from funny, researchers point out. It is, in fact, one of the most dangerous distractions, on par with texting from behind the wheel of a car.

"Texting while crossing the road is the most distracting, and potentially most dangerous, activity," according to the prevention group, prompting researchers to suggest that a low-tolerance approach, similar to that of drinking-and-driving, may be necessary.

The Journal's researchers based their findings on the behaviour of more than 1,000 pedestrians crossing 20 busy junctions at various times of the day in Seattle, Washington State during the summer of 2012.

"Distracting" activities, they said, included talking on the phone (6 per cent), text messaging (7 per cent), listening to music on a mobile device (11 per cent), chatting with other people, or focusing on children or pets.

For most of those people, it took significantly longer to cross the road compared with pedestrians focused on walking — 0.75 to 1.29 seconds longer, to be exact. Texters took almost two seconds longer to cross three to four lanes than non-distracted walkers, according to the study, and were almost four times more likely to ignore lights, cross at the middle of the junction, or fail to look both ways before stepping off a curb.

Almost half of those people made that walk during the morning rush hour period and slightly more than 50 per cent were between the ages of 25 and 44, the study said. Only one in four pedestrians, distracted or not, looked both ways before crossing — so apparently the lessons of primary school don't stick.

"Crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians injure 60,000 people and kill 4,000 every year in the U.S. And just like distracted driving, distracted walking is potentially dangerous," the British Medical Journal report said, adding that those numbers are likely to increase as mobile devices continue to become static objects in people's lives.

A report from earlier in 2012 claims that texting now surpasses face-to-face conversations in the UK.