Smartphones Putting Pedestrians in ER

We hear a lot of debate about the balance between personal freedom and the dangers of distracted driving when it come to smartphones. But now it appears those dangers are becoming an issue for pedestrians.

The Associated Press reports that, based on reports from 100 emergency rooms, an estimated 1,152 people needed hospital treatment in the US last year for injuries suffered while walking and using a portable electronic device (which could also include music players and handheld games consoles.)

As that’s an extrapolation, it’s tough to read too much into the precise figure, though the Consumer Product Safety Commisssion, which produced the statistic, notes that it’s probably an underestimate as it only counts cases where the patient specifically mentioned the electronic device and then staff recorded that fact in their notes.

The figure has risen four-fold in the space of seven years. While the number of people who have cellphones hasn’t changed dramatically in that time, the proportion who own smartphones has shot up. That certainly allows for a loose theory that the main cause for the apparent trend is that users are more likely to spend longer looking at a screen while on the move.

Although there have been some efforts to bring in local laws restricting people from walking in public while being distracted, there has been little appetite for such ideas from local politicians. The closest the AP could find was a token $50 fine for people using distracting electronic devices while crossing light-rail tracks in Salt Lake City.

And while there are even reports of deaths among distracted walkers, it appears many and likely even most of these are because people are wearing earphones rather than because they are looking at screens.

In terms of political debate, the issue seems to come down to who’s affected. It’s certainly feasible that people crossing the road without paying attention may cause injuries to drivers and passengers when cars swerve. For the most part though, it seems the most likely injury is to the pedestrian himself, often walking into walls or posts, or tripping over, and from a criminal perspective at least, the US seems happy to let people face the consequences of their own stupidity.

[Walking while using a smartphone picture via]

11 Responses to Smartphones Putting Pedestrians in ER

  1. No, smartphones are not putting people in the ER. It is the inattentiveness of the user that is putting the user in the ER. People have every right in the world to be stupid, and this "danger" is just another illustration of that.

    • Great point! If they're risking their own life, whatever. It's their choice to be stupid and get hurt by it. My god, by 20 years from now, there's going to be someone legislating how we tie our shoes.

    • I agree with you, and I also agree with samldanach, 1000 injuries is not significant enough to create laws against cellphone or cellphone usage, that would be plain ridiculous.

  2. Maybe I'm just cold-blooded, but is 1,000 injuries statistically significant enough to get worked up over? I mean, that's not just a tiny fraction of the US population, it would be a pretty small fraction of the smartphone-using pedestrians. At some point, you have to accept that we can't cocoon everyone with a nanny state. People get hurt. It's part of life. I think that, at most, we could do with a law that dictates that a smartphone-using pedestrian is liable for any injuries sustained as a result of their lack of attention.

    But, this is how all those "dumb laws" we laugh at get started.

  3. Natural selection. If you don't have the mental continuity to multitask and you walk in front of a bus – the next generation will be less likely to make that mistake.

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