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The phrase "watch where you're going" might often come across as abrupt, if not outright rude, but it's still a fundamental rule for anyone interested in getting safely from one place to another.
April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month at the National Safety Council, where our campaign encouraged motorists to "Just Drive." But distracted walking is a problem in its own right and, as distractions increase, it's only been getting worse.
One study conducted in 2013 at Ohio State University, looking at emergency room data, found that injuries from distracted walking had more than doubled over a five-year span. Another study, at Stony Brook University, found that people trying to text on a cell phone were 60% more likely to travel off their intended path than non-texters.
The issue has grown to the point that NSC, in its annual Injury Facts statistical report for 2015, broke out the numbers and found that annual injuries more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2011. The Injury Facts evaluation also found that the majority of distracted walking injuries – 52% – happened at home and not adjacent to roadways.
What happens when people are distracted, when they are not "watching where they are going"? The injuries can be comparatively mild, such as sprains or strains related to falls, but they can also be as severe as dislocations, fractures or concussions. Further, a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian traffic fatalities were rising, and the report attributed the increase in part to people being distracted by their mobile devices. So distracted walking might leave someone with a temporary limp, but it could also cost them their life.
There are several steps that can make people safer as they walk. Never using a cell phone or other device when walking is one, and looking left, then right, then left again before crossing a street is another. Even taking the time when crossing streets to look at the drivers, make eye contact and smile can have an impact; researchers in Europe found that motorists who received smiles from pedestrians were more likely to stop and allow them to cross safely than motorists who received a blank, neutral look from pedestrians.
So whether you are on your feet or behind the wheel, strolling along the sidewalk or heading to your kitchen, put down your device and make a personal decision to "watch where you are going." You'll probably get there faster, and you'll reduce your chances of not getting there at all.
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