It’s not your imagination: people who text and walk really are annoying — and maybe even a hazard.
A new study that attached sensors to the feet of subjects who texted as they crossed an obstacle course found they moved slower, dragged their feet and wobbled off the path.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE, say that no one hurt themselves during the test, but the results suggest that pedestrians tapping out messages on their devices could be at higher risk of tripping or putting themselves in danger’s way while crossing the road.
Study co-author Conrad Earnest, a research scientist at the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab of Texas A&M University, said he got the idea for the test from his own experience.
“One day I was walking and was totally frustrated by the drunken weaving about of texters who were also trying to carry on phone conversations during their shopping,” Earnest said.
Among the 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.
He said it’s “too Pollyannish” to think that people will stop texting on the move but the research shows they should at least step to the side or stop.
Andrea Gielen, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, hopes the study focuses more attention on the issue of distracted walking.
“There are studies showing that the number of emergency room visits due to distractions like cell phones have increased dramatically,” Gielen said. “This is a nice supplement to that kind of population-based data.”
Gielen said distracted walking is epidemic. A 2012 study found a third of pedestrians at high-risk intersections were texting, listening to music or on the phone. They took 18 percent more time to cross and were four times more likely to display an unsafe crossing behavior.
“I haven’t seen studies showing that texters run into people when walking and knock them over, but I know from my own personal experience that you really have to be paying attention if the other person walking toward you isn’t,” Gielen said.