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You Could Get Killed When Walking and Reading, and Other Hand-Wringing

12442362925_3f65248a8c_hIf you are ready to panic over the next over-hyped non-issue, then I have just the thing.

Citing an AP story titled Emergency room visits from distracted walking skyrocket, Teleread informed us this morning that walking while reading ebooks on your smartphone is a danger to your health:

According to a recent National Safety Council report aired on CBS News, up to 10 percent of U.S. emergency room admissions are now attributable to distraction while walking. The situation is now so serious that, according to the NSC’s recent release, “distracted walking injuries involving cell phones accounted for an estimated 11,101 injuries between 2000 and 2011, making it a significant safety threat. The trend is so alarming that it was included for the first time in the annual National Safety Council statistical report, Injury Facts.”

Triumphant Luddites might like to reflect that paper books and tranquil reading surroundings like libraries may carry their own dangers. But as Chris writes elsewhere, we should probably take those dangers less seriously than the genuine, and quantifiable, risk of ebook-related distracted walking.

This sounds like a lot of injuries, making distracted walking a dangerous activity, right?

Not really, no.

A quick check of the statistics tells us that this is a non-issue on par with people choking on pretzels or getting attacked by vending machines.

Yes, some people have been injured while distracted by their mobile device. We’ve all chuckled over the videos, and some of us have counted ourselves lucky that no camera was watching us when we were paying too much attention to our smartphone. But in reality, this is less of a problem than the mainstream media would have you think.

For one thing, this problem existed decades ago, and extends beyond mobile devices (I’ve walked into street signs while reading paper books). But more importantly, this type of injury simply doesn’t happen all that often.

In 2011 alone, the CDC documented 40 million emergency room visits caused by injuries (out of 136 million visits).

We do not know the causes of the injuries which lead to the 40 million visits, but we do know that the NSC estimated that only 2,100 people were injured in 2011 while walking and using their cellphone. And while we don’t know how many of those 2,100 injuries ended up seeking medical care, that matters less than the fact that there is a couple of orders of magnitude difference between one statistic and the other.

In short, this is not a real public health/safety issue so much as it is a meaningless distraction, a piece of entertaining gossip gussied up as news.

Or did I miss something?

image by francisco_osorio

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Geoffrey Kidd December 31, 2015 um 1:57 pm

You forgot the motto of the newspaper entertainment industry: "If it bleeds, it leads."

poiboy December 31, 2015 um 3:40 pm

this is modern Darwinism at work.. if you are too stupid to not pay attention to your environment while on your precious phone.. then you deserve to be (not-so)naturally selected to not continue on.

sorry to be crude.. but there are far too many drones walking around while immersed in instabooktwitsnaptumblring worlds.

purple lady December 31, 2015 um 5:32 pm

This reminded me of the video of the woman falling into a fountain while texting.

Nate Hoffelder December 31, 2015 um 6:12 pm

That was funny, yes – but it really doesn’t happen all that often.

Steve Vernon January 1, 2016 um 6:33 am

I’m old school. In fact, my earliest teacher wore a bone in her hair and carried a large wooden club. I do NOT own a cell phone. Never have, never will. There is something unhealthy and unholy about the concept of a man’s butt pocket ringing at him in the middle of the day. So a part of me cringes every time I see ANYONE walking down the street staring at some box in his hands.

Yet I do own a Kobo e-reader. I read it on the bus on my way to work and on my way back home. I turn it off and put it in my work bag a few blocks before reaching my bus stop. I do NOT read it while walking.

I’m not sure if I have a point here. I haven’t had my coffee yet. I am not to be trusted before caffeine…

Lori G. January 1, 2016 um 9:12 am

Who needs a book in their face to walk into a pole or fall in a fountain? I do both just fine without any distractions. Not to mention tripping over "invisible sticks".

Nate Hoffelder January 1, 2016 um 9:13 am

I once walked into a tree branch while just thinking, no book required. Someone had to find and hand me my glasses while I held the gushing wound on my forehead closed.

Infographic: Reading Has Its Benefits | The Digital Reader January 2, 2016 um 3:27 pm

[…] Reading expands the mind, can reduce stress, and it can also get the blood flowing (especially if you read while walking). […]

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