by | General Liability, Safety |

That’s the old question, but the 2014 question is ……

Can you walk and use your cell phone at the same time?

Evidently not!  Injuries to distracted walkers are on the rise.

According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, using injury reports from 100 hospitals around the country, the number of people treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using cell phones while walking had increased each year and more than doubled over 2005.

Since not all injuries result in emergency room visits and hospital records don’t always record whether a cell phone was involved, the researchers are convinced that the numbers are much higher than reported and felt a more accurate count of injuries to walkers might come from comparing distracted walking to distracted driving, which has been more heavily studied.  They further stated that, if current trends continue, it wouldn’t be surprising if the number of injuries to pedestrians caused by cell phone distraction doubles again between 2010 and 2015.

Distracted walkers may fall off curbs or something higher, stumble on uneven ground or pavement, bump into stationary objects or other pedestrians and collide with bicycles and vehicles.  Injuries range from bruises to severe trauma and death.

Who is most at risk?  Not unexpectedly, the study found that people aged 16 to 25 were most likely to be injured as distracted pedestrians, and most were hurt while talking rather than texting.  That’s not to say that texting is less distracting, but because texting is more difficult while walking, people are more likely to talk rather than text while they walk.  The problem has not escaped the notice of universities other than Ohio State.

  • Johns Hopkins did its own study and launched its “Road Scholar” campaign, encouraging smart pedestrian and bicycle behavior in 2012.
  • The 2012 “Watch for Me NC” program launched in North Carolina’s Research Triangle (home to a number of colleges and universities) and run by the N.C.  Department of Transportation (NCDOT) in partnership with local communities is aimed at reducing the number of pedestrians and bicyclists injured in crashes with vehicles.

Apart from college campuses, downtown areas where pedestrian traffic is highest is also getting attention.  Washington and San Francisco, among others, have looked into safety campaigns and some states have considered legislation that would impose penalties on distracted pedestrians.  In 2013 the U. S. Department of Transportation announced the availability of $2,000,000 in federal grants to combat distracted walking for the top 22 cities with deaths greater than the national average.

What does this mean for you as a business owner?

  • All of your employees are pedestrians some of the time, whether walking on city streets or on the premises of other businesses in the course of their jobs or simply walking around your premises.  Are they using their cell phones while they walk?  If they are, the practice could have an impact on your Workers’ Compensation results.
  • If you haven’t already done so, consider imposing rules for your employees about cell phone use. 
  • Distracted walking might be a topic for upcoming safety meetings and your safety manual so that your employees are aware of the issues and your drivers can drive more defensively.

Even if your employees aren’t looking at their phone screens or texting, studies have shown that the distraction of talking on the phone while walking or driving can have a similar effect as intoxication.  If your employees need to use their cell phones for business purposes, finding a safe place to stop while making or taking that call would be the safe thing to do. 

Hopefully you’ve already addressed distracted driving with employees that drive your vehicles or drive their own vehicles for your business.  Are they also aware of the risk of injury posed by distracted pedestrians?


Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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