Injuries from distracted WALKING on the rise

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jul 31, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-31 20:19:44-04

(CBS News) - How many times have you seen someone in the street, texting or talking on a smartphone with their head down? Those folks can be a serious danger to themselves and others.

In fact, The latest government figures show pedestrian deaths in America rose by four point two percent last year – and injuries shot up 19 percent.

As a nation, we sent 12.2 million texts a month in 2000. By 2009 we were sending 135 billion every month.

So folks attempt to multitask. Bloopers posted on-line reveal that can mean walking into fountains, upstaging a reporter's live shot or running into wildlife.

Then, there are the far more serious mis-steps. One video shows a distracted man talking on his cell-phone near a Philadelphia-area train station. He stumbles and fall onto the tracks. Luckily, no train was approaching at the time.

The CPSC says 1,152 people wound up in hospital emergency rooms in the last year for injuries caused when walking and using a cell phone or electronic device.

Professor David Schwebel studies the problem at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"If you're on the phone, if you're text messaging, if you're browsing the internet," said Shwebel. "Our research shows that that increases your risk of being hit by a car".

Using a "virtual" world, his team can gauge response times -- and human error -- when crossing the street and texting.

"Walking actually involves a fair amount of complexity. Our brain has to work hard to make sure we walk safely, especially near traffic," said Schwebel. "Our brain also has to work hard to text message. It has to think about who you're reading, how to respond, how to type, brains can only handle so much. If we give the brain too much to do, mistakes can happen."

That's what Fort Lee, New Jersey Police Chief Thomas Ripoli found. In his suburban community, located just outside New York City, 40 pedestrians have been struck by vehicles already this year.

"People are texting on their cell phones and iPods and not paying attention," said Ripoli.

So this spring, the chief dusted off an anti-jay-walking law that had been on the books here since the 1950s. He told his officers to handout $54 tickets to deter people from crossing the street illegally while texting.

A number of municipalities have tried other methods. A no texting ordinance at crosswalks in Idaho, painted crosswalks in Delaware and padded lampposts in London.

There's even an iPhone app that displays the road below, but that doesn't do much for peripheral vision.

Schwebel says it is just not a risk you should take.

"Our research suggests that it doesn't matter how experience you are. Even our most experienced text messengers in our study were distracted and made mistakes when they were crossing the virtual road," said Schwebel.