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Texting and walking may be as risky as distracted driving, study suggests

You may have heard anecdotal reports of people getting into accidents while walking and looking down at their electronic devices. (Those potholes and curbs will get you everytime.) One New Jersey town, Fort Lee, even recently banned texting and walking, issuing $85 jaywalking tickets to lawbreakers.

But how dangerous is it, really, to text and walk? University of Washington researchers last summer decided to observe more than 1100 pedestrians at 20 busy intersections in Seattle and found that nearly one-third performed a distracted activity while walking like emailing, talking to a friend, or listening to music.

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Texting pedestrians took nearly two additional seconds to cross a three or four lane intersection compared to those who were walking alone without any electronic devices. They were also four times more likely to disobey lights, not look both ways, or veer off the crosswalk.

“We are not able to link these behaviours to the risk of injury,” wrote the study authors. “However, even moderately risky behaviours such as crossing against or close to the lights have been correlated with risk of injury eight times that of legal crossings.”

They pointed out that crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians injure 60,000 Americans are are responsible for 4,000 deaths every year. Like distracted driving, distracted walking is as potentially dangerous.

I’m not sure whether Boston should ban texting and walking, but I do think that an increasing awareness about the risks could help us curb our behaviors on our own.

The authors, though, advocated for more laws similar to Fort Lee’s. “While individuals do not feel ‘at risk’ for relatively rare events such as injury, they may feel ‘at risk’ for a distraction citation if there is visible evidence of effective enforcement.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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