Distracted walking: look up from your smartphone

I knew it was time to write this when I started shouting out loud at strangers as I crossed the road: “Watch out! Look up from your phone!”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it too. Distracted walking seems to have suddenly got worse.

What’s distracted walking? It’s walking along a street or a road while staring down at your smartphone (scrolling, typing or looking at a map, for example).

One indicator of the rise in distracted walking is that smartphone street theft has soared – after all, it’s easy to snatch a phone out of the hands of someone not paying attention.

A police campaign has been launched in London to tackle rising phone theft, and in some parts of the city there are huge flashing signs telling people to be careful and “Love your phone”.

The acknowledgement of this issue is an important first step, but much more now  needs to be done – not just tackling smartphone theft but warning people about distracted walking, cycling and driving too.

Recently, the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, called for a ban on cyclists wearing headphones amid concerns over cycling safety. This is the kind of message we need to hear more.

Distracted driving and distracted walking are issues that are being discussed much more in the USA than the UK.

Here are some facts:

– Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55mph of driving the length of an entire football field, blind (VTTI)
– Driving while using a mobile phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37% (Carnegie Mellon)
– If you text while driving, you’re eight times more likely to be involved in accident than a non-distracted driver. You’re four times more likely to be involved in an accident while talking on a mobile phone (Professor David Strayer)

So before you answer a message while driving, and before you step out into traffic oblivious while looking down at your phone; stop. Pay attention. 

Look up. Look left. Look right. Don’t look down at your smartphone.

Rather than just shouting at people in the street (which I’ll keep doing) I thought I’d ask you to shout about this too.

© Frances Booth

Frances Booth is author of The Distraction Trap and an expert in digital distraction.

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