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Pedestrians: Stumbling into the smartphone age

John Minchillo/Associated Press

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Americans’ often-futile attempts at multitasking have created a new phenomenon: the smartphone stumblebum. A new study by researchers at Ohio State and the Ohio Department of Transportation found that the number of cellphone-talking and -texting pedestrians who end up in the nation’s emergency rooms after being hit by cars, walking into poles, and falling into ditches nearly tripled from 559 in 2004 to 1,506 in 2010. Such injuries have soared from half of 1 percent of all pedestrian injuries to nearly 4 percent. The authors say the actual number of injuries is probably much higher.

Shifts in technology are thoroughly remaking the modern streetscape. At the same time that pedestrians’ smartphone use has become a broad safety concern, cities like Boston are grappling with how to safely accommodate a surge in bicycling. In the latter case, the debate involves complex tradeoffs — among cyclist safety, driver convenience, and environmental awareness. But if there’s any debate about texting while walking down busy streets, it’s more easily resolved: Don’t.

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