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Distracted smartphone walking poses safety risks

Monday - 8/11/2014, 2:48am  ET

distractedwalkingDC_ap.jpg
In this July 10, 2012 photo, pedestrians cross K Street and Connecticut Avenue NW near the Farragut North Metro station in D.C. Across the country on city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with their head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn't as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Author: "the fear of missing out"

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WASHINGTON -- Smartphone users are starting to fill up emergency rooms as distracted walking is to blame for everything from sprained ankles, broken bones and even deaths.

"You see people in restaurants with their phones all on the table; you see people checking their phones walking on the street; you see people who refuse to put their phones away at movie theaters or on an airplane because they have to check in," says Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University. "It is a detriment to our health and safety."

A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that 23 percent of cellphone owners have bumped into someone or something because they were distracted by what was on their phone. And 50 percent said they were knocked into by someone else who was using their phone and not paying attention.

Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, says people get obsessed with the fact that the computer in our pocket puts the world at our fingertips. "You have to keep checking in to make sure we don't miss anything."

That's causing us to walk into walls, off piers, into fountains, off curbs, into each other and onto busy streets.

Last April, Liberty Mutual Insurance conducted a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 people and found 60 percent acknowledged they routinely read or send texts and emails, talk on their phone or listen to music while walking. Some 70 percent said they realize this behavior increases their chances of getting hit by a car.

Rosen says we only have a limited amount of brain processing at any moment, and "if you are allocating a lot of the capability to checking in on your communications, emails, and texts, then there is not going to be a heck of a lot more left to keep you safe."

The solution? Rosen, whose next project is a book on distraction, says it's complicated. We are all distracted as it is, but researchers are starting to find that smartphones, electronic communication and especially social media are far more distracting than anyone ever imagined.

"It's one thing to be at home working on your desk top or laptop computer and be distracted," he says. "It's quite another to be walking in the middle of a busy intersection and be distracted."

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