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M. Spencer Green/AP
Giancarlo Yerkes, a 30-year-old advertising
employee, crosses a street in downtown
Chicago while text-messaging with his cell
phone, Tuesday, July 29, 2008.

Should Texting While Walking Be Banned?

April 03, 2009 09:02 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The dangers of pedestrian texting have prompted legislative efforts and led to several deaths, but some say it's just a common sense issue.  

Pedestrian Texting a Public Safety Hazard?

A publicity stunt on a busy London street last year aimed to show the hazards of walking while sending text messages on cell phones and BlackBerries. Lighthearted as it was, the dangers are real. Researchers from Ohio State University are examining the safety risks associated with pedestrian use of cell phones and mp3 players, reports NPR. They've found that "absorption can create a loss of 'situation awareness' similar to that of distracted drivers," and has caused several deaths.

The issue has "prompted public safety campaigns in San Francisco and Texas and legislative efforts in at least two other states," but proposed bans, including New York's, have not all passed. Some in the communications industry find such legislation ludicrous. For example, Joe Farren, a spokesman for wireless industry trade group CTIA, told NPR, "I think we're in a lot of trouble if we have to give people advice on how to use or not use wireless when walking down the street."

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But there have been serious repercussions for some pedestrian cell phone users. For example, Vicky Baker, a 39-year-old woman from Township, Mich., was hit by a train and killed while talking on her cell phone. And "Emergency rooms around the country report treating pedestrians injured while texting or otherwise tuned in to phones and MP3 players," Nicholas Jouriles, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told NPR.

Meanwhile, texting while driving is receiving serious legislative attention.

Earlier this month, Maryland's House of Delegates voted almost unanimously to approve a bill banning texting while driving. Similar legislation has already been approved by the state Senate, according to the Associated Press. Virginia and the District of Columbia have already banned sending and writing text messages while driving.

And just last month, USA Today reported that Arkansas state Rep. Ray Kidd "has strong support" for a bill that would ban text messaging and driving. The bill was drafted by Hilary Davidson, the daughter of Paul Davidson, an Arkansas man who was killed in an accident caused by a driver who was texting; the driver later committed suicide.

Background: British study on walking while texting

Last year, Time magazine reported that 118 118, the private British information and directory assistance number, and Living Streets, a charity organization that works to make cities more accommodating to pedestrians, teamed up to produce a video clip that showed Londoners bumping into lampposts and other objects while sending text messages from cell phones and BlackBerries.

The publicity stunt included padding lampposts on Brick Lane, a busy London street, with large bumpers emblazoned with 118 118's logo.

The clip, which made it onto news network ITN, turned out to be a covert advertisement for the charity and the information line, and the bumpers were taken down within a day. But it focused attention on the dangers of using portable electronic devices while performing other tasks.

Related Topic: Cell phone use while driving and biking

A study published in a 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine says cell phone use while driving "is similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit," according to Reuters.

Cell phone use while biking is also a serious issue. In 2007, New Jersey passed a bill that prohibits bicyclists from using cell phones while biking down public roads. N.J. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick explained in an audio clip why talking and pedaling is a threat to public safety. Bicycle shop owner Pete Garnich called the bill "absolutely ridiculous."

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