Texting while walking affects ability to balance, study finds
Pedestrians walk through an "e-lane" Monday, April 2, 2012, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter used April Fool's Day to have a little fun with what he says is a real problem: distracted walking. City officials painted lines and oblivious stick-figure pictures on one stretch of John F. Kennedy Boulevard near City Hall as a jab at pedestrians who keep their eyes on their cellphone screens and not their surroundings. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, January 22, 2014 5:00PM EST
Pedestrians who text while walking deviate from their path and slow down more, according to a new study that's shedding light on the safety risks associated with texting and walking.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS, examined the effect reading and sending text messages has on body movement.
Researchers from Australia's University of Queensland tested the ability of 26 participants to walk in a straight line of about 8.5 metres in three different circumstances: 1) without using a cellphone, 2) while reading a text message on a cellphone and 3) while typing a text message on a cellphone.
Participants were allowed to use their own cellphones for the experiment and were free to text as they typically do. During the experiment, the participants' body movements were recorded and analyzed using a 3-D analysis system.
The study, titled"Texting and Walking: Strategies for Postural Control and Implications for Safety," found participants who read or texted while walking moved more slowly, deviated more from a straight line and moved their necks less compared to when they walked without using a cellphone.
"Texting, and to a lesser extent reading, on your mobile phone affects your ability to walk and balance," Dr. Siobhan Schabrun, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "This may impact the safety of people who text and walk at the same time."
The study also found that 35 per cent of the participants had reported having a previous accident while texting and walking, including falling, tripping and colliding with obstacles or other people.
"Our data indicate that typing text, and to a lesser extent reading text, on a mobile phone impairs gait quality," the authors said, adding that texting may pose an additional safety risk when pedestrians face obstacles or cross a road.
"Individuals with constrained movement patterns, slower walking speeds, and those who perform a cognitive task while walking (often referred to as dual-tasking) are at greater risk of collisions or falls," the study says.
The risks of texting and walking have been in the spotlight in recent years, as cellphones have surged in popularity. It is estimated that 77 per cent of the world's population owns a cellphone, and texting has become one of the more popular forms of communicating, given its speed and relative low cost, the study says.
In another study published last June, researchers from Ohio State University found that more than 1,500 pedestrians in the U.S. were believed to be treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to using a cellphone while walking in 2010. The number had doubled since 2005.