The Dangers of Distracted Walking

Distracted Walking

Many communities are becoming more “walkable,” adding paths and traffic-calming measures to keep pedestrians safe; however, there are still many hazards for walkers to be aware of, such as blind intersections and high traffic areas. But are you familiar with distracted walking?

We hear a lot about the hazards of distracted driving – texting, emailing, talking and doing other things that take your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and mind off driving. Distractions also can take a pedestrian’s attention away from his or her surroundings, leading to serious injuries from a fall or stepping into traffic.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), “the number of injuries to pedestrians using their phone has more than doubled since 2004 and surveys have shown that 60% of pedestrians are distracted by other activities while walking.”

Talking on the phone, checking email, using social networking apps, listening to music, engaging in conversations and even playing games all contribute to the problem of distracted walking.

Who is Most At-risk?

While pedestrian-vehicle injuries are the fifth leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 19, according to, the fact of the matter is that no age group is immune. put this video together, talking with teens about the dangers of distracted walking.


Gary Karton hit the streets of Washington D.C. to talk with teens about the dangers of distracted walking. In this survey, half of teens say they cross the street while distracted by a mobile device.

The Dangers of Distracted Walking

Did you know, your peripheral vision drops to 10% of what it would normally be when you are focused on something small such as your phone? Add to that, headphones and earbuds compromise your hearing. With two of your critical senses compromised, distracted walkers risk:

  • Walking in front of a moving car
  • Tripping and falling over curbs, broken sidewalks or other debris
  • Stepping in a pothole or crack
  • Running into or hitting a sign or lamp post head first

In 2008, more than 1,000 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical attention at the emergency room as a result of texting and walking – double the year previous (which was double the year previous as well).

In addition, research studies have shown:

  • Typing (texting) or reading a text alters a pedestrian’s gait, speed, and walking pattern.
  • Teens and young adults, ages 16 to 25, were most likely to be injured as distracted pedestrians, and most were hurt while talking rather than texting: .
  • Distracted pedestrians may have been a contributing factor in the 4,200 pedestrian deaths and 70,000 injuries in traffic crashes in 2010, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The AAOS commissioned a Distracted Walking Study where you can find more information.

keep pedestrians safe hazards for walkers distracted walkingCommon risks associated with distracted walking include:

  • Trips
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Fractures
  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Broken bones
  • Concussions
  • Brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Death

Safety Tips for Walkers

Be safe, alert and aware of your surroundings when walking.

  • Look up, not down, especially when stepping off a curb or in the middle of major intersections or when walking on stairs or escalators.
  • Never walk while texting or talking on the phone. If texting or you have to take a call, move out of the way of others and stop on the sidewalk.
  • Do not walk with headphones on. If you do, maintain a volume where you can hear the sounds of traffic and your surroundings.
  • Don’t jaywalk. Cross streets at a traffic light or crosswalk. Never cross the street while using an electronic device.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk when available. If there is no sidewalk, be sure to face oncoming traffic.
  • Always observe traffic signals; wait until it is your time to walk.
  • A good practice before crossing the street is to look left, right, then left again.



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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published October 18, 2018. It was reviewed on October 6, 2022 and updated for content and accuracy. 

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