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Is FOMO Causing an Increase in Pedestrian Injuries?

For many of us, our cell phones have become an appendage, always within reach and always calling our attention from the task at hand. We use them to multi-task, and to make our morning and afternoon commutes more efficient and enjoyable through music, podcasts, audiobooks, and a scan of social media. Sometimes we even use them to navigate from place to place. We don’t want to miss a thing, so much so that the Fear of Missing Out and its acronym, FOMO, have become a recognized issue.


We all know the dangers of distracted driving and the accidents and injuries that can follow, but have you considered the danger of distracted walking?


The numbers on not paying attention

Research has shown that cell-phone related injuries among pedestrians had been increasing on a trajectory that was parallel to the increase for drivers until 2010 when the number of pedestrians injured while using their mobile phones actually exceeded the number of drivers injured.


Several studies show that when people are using an electronic device to listen to music, talk on the phone, text, or surf the web, they are more likely to engage in unsafe walking practices. One study from Stony Brook University revealed that people attempting to text and walk at the same time veered off course 60% more and overshot their target destination 13% more than those that did not.


A second study showed that, during a virtual simulation, pedestrians using an electronic device were more likely to be hit while crossing the street. A third study from Ohio State University researchers demonstrated that pedestrians talking on their cell phones had reduced situational awareness and were able to recall fewer objects encountered upon their route.


Think you’re a better multi-tasker than the participants in these studies? Try this selective attention test.


Cell phone-related injuries aren’t just embarrassing, they can be serious!


One researcher’s analysis of data from the Consumer Product Safety Program suggests that emergency room visits for cell phone-related injuries to pedestrians tripled between 2004 and 2010. In 2007, the year the first iPhone was released, there were 597 cell phone-related injuries to pedestrians. In 2008 there were 1,055, and in 2010 there were 1,506. Emergency room visits account for only the most serious injuries, and the actual rate of all injuries caused by distracted walking are likely much higher when you take into account those that didn’t seek treatment.


Beating the FOMO

How do we protect ourselves when the appeal of our mobile device is just too great?


The Wall Street Journal reports that several companies are working to develop apps that will encourage cell phone users to walk more responsibly. Rutgers University is working on a program that would detect when a pedestrian enters an intersection and would lock a user’s the screen until they have safely crossed the street. Others use the phone’s camera to make the user’s screen “transparent” so that they can view their path while looking at their phone.


Several states, including New York, are struggling to find ways to make pedestrians more aware of the dangers of distracted walking. In 2011, the New York State Legislature considered a bill that would make it illegal to walk and use an electronic device. In the most recent legislative session, the Senate was considering a bill that would fine anyone using an electronic device while crossing street.


Both bills ultimately did not pass but the larger issue of pedestrian safety remains a priority for New York lawmakers. So much so that in 2016, the state invested $110 million in the development and implementation of a pedestrian safety action plan. The Department of Transportation, Department of Health and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee will use a significant portion of the funds to improve the engineering of dangerous intersections and increase enforcement of traffic laws.


Visit New York State’s pedestrian safety website for more information the pedestrian safety initiatives underway in New York State and other educational resources that may be available to you including the “See! Be Seen!” campaign.


You can also reach out to the New York Coalition for Traffic Safety to host a pedestrian and bicycle safety programs in your community.



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