While most people acknowledge the inherent dangers of distracted driving, the notion that distracted walking presents risks of its own, may strike some as a bit of a stretch. But as anyone who read about the San Diego man who was distracted by an electronic device and fell to his death from the Sunset Cliffs last December will attest, the danger is real.

In fact, some people, such as this New Jersey Democratic assemblywoman, are proposing bills that would govern the most obvious distracted walking culprit: texting. The bill seeks to make texting while walking illegal, slapping offenders with a fine akin to Jaywalking or up to fifteen days in jail.

Distracted Life 2.0

We all know the seriousness of distracted driving. First, it was the increased vehicle accidents caused by talking on a cell phone, then we found out the dangers inherent even in using a hands-free device while operating a vehicle, and finally the hazards of texting-while-driving were brought to light.

More recently, distracted biking has made its way into the national discussion with seven states currently banning headphone/earplug use (California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia—specifically include cyclists in their laws restricting or banning the use of headsets or earplugs). Some states, such as Maryland and Delaware, only ban headphones if they are covering both ears. An eighth state, Pennsylvania, prohibits people driving vehicles from using headsets, this may very well include bicycles, which the state has defined as vehicles.

Now, it’s distracted walking. But is headset use or texting-while-walking, really a significant enough danger to enact laws making it illegal?

Is texting while walking really dangerous?

According to a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association in 2015, texting while walking is playing an increasing role in pedestrian deaths in recent years. Intersections are a primary concern as texting pedestrians will often cross them without even checking for oncoming traffic—a danger to both themselves and drivers who are forced to slam on their breaks at a moment’s notice.

In fact, since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have actually increased by 15 percent — up to 4,735 in 2013. In addition, a 2012 study found that about a third of pedestrians at high-risk intersections were texting, listening to music or on the phone and that because of this, they took an average 18% longer to cross and were four times more likely to display an unsafe crossing behavior.

Not only is a “petextrian” less aware of their surroundings, but texting while walking causes pedestrians to walk slower and veer off course according to this 2015 study, which cited these findings among its results:

It took texters an average of 25 seconds to finish the obstacle course compared to 19 seconds for others.
The average step length of a texter was 14 inches compared to 17 inches for the rest.
Texters dragged their feet an average of 200 seconds during the walk, compared to 170 seconds for the undistracted.
While any laws affecting distracted walkers have yet to be passed, one thing is for sure, focus is important for safety when traveling whether by, car, by bike, or on foot.