Put down the phone and walk! Teen pedestrian injuries on rise

Pedestrian injuries among teens are on the rise and experts believe it's because so many are distracted by their phones while walking.
Pedestrian injuries among teens are on the rise and experts believe it's because so many are distracted by their phones while walking.James Whitaker / Getty Images / Today

Many of us have done it -- checked our phones to read a new text or send a quick tweet as we stroll down the street. It only takes a few seconds, right?  And while we know we should watch where we’re going, we think, worst case: we’ll bump into the person in front of us, or trip on the sidewalk.

But experts are blaming texting and walking on the rising number of pedestrian injuries and deaths among teens. Walking safely, they say, is, in fact, a two way street: it requires the focused attention of both pedestrians and drivers.

A new report shows that in recent years, pedestrian injuries among 16 to 19 year-olds increased 25 percent. Teens aged 14 to 19 made up half of all child pedestrian injuries, according to the report from SafeKids, a global non-profit organization focused on preventing injuries among children.

The study, Walking Safely: A Report to the Nation, took snapshot views of pedestrian death and injury among five year intervals from 1995 through 2010 and looked at age groups 0 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14 and 15 to 19. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau, SafeKids found that the death rate among older teens is now twice that of younger kids, with 1.11 deaths per 100,000 members of the population as opposed to .47, .33, and .45 in the other cohorts respectively. 

While the report, sponsored by FedEx, doesn’t break down how many of those were using mobile devices at the time of injury, Kate Carr, president and CEO of SafeKids Worldwide, says she believes that’s what is driving the rise in injuries.

“In addition to the increase in pedestrian injuries we saw among older teenagers, we also examined numerous outside reports about how much mobile use has increased among teens, “ she says. “We know that the average number of texts per teen has risen dramatically. Couple that with drivers who are talking on the phone or texting, and you have distracted people on both sides of the equation. Our hypothesis is that the rise in injuries among these older teens is caused by their dramatic increase in their cell phone use.”  

September and October, when kids have headed back to school and it’s still warm enough to walk in many places, are among the deadliest months according to the SafeKids report. To combat it, some schools have started offering programs on walking safety.

In fact, Florida Atlantic University has made walking safety the focus of its annual back-to-school Safety Month in September. Charles Lowe, the university's police chief, says he's seen a significant increase in people biking or walking and texting at the same time.

“Many of the people seem unaware of what is going on around them,” he said in an email to NBC News. “They trip over obstacles, walk out into traffic and run into other people.”

In response, this month the school is blaring messages over the speaker system in the main campuses breezeway reminding students to stop looking at their phones and focus on their feet.

Andrea Gielen, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, has worked extensively on pedestrian safety for high school and college campuses across the country and recommends parents begin teaching safe walking habits early. For starters, don't let kids cross the street until they are at least 10 without an adult so they can see parents modeling good behavior. (Which means parents have to put down their phones too!)

And Gielen reminds parents to teach their children that they can’t necessarily rely on drivers to be paying attention. Kids, she says, need to learn how to be safe pedestrians just like they learn to be safe drivers in driver’s education classes.

Her golden three rules for all pedestrians: 

  • Follow all street signs and cross with the light
  • Always put your phone down or in your pocket before you step off the curb
  • Make eye contact with the driver before you cross

Have you ever been injured walking and texting? Tell us on Facebook.


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