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Injuries from ‘distracted walking’ on the rise

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this July 10, 2012 photo, pedestrians cross K Street and Connecticut Ave. NW near the Farragut North Metro Entrance in downtown Washington. Across the country on city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with their head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn't as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this photo taken Tuesday, July 10, 2012, a pedestrian talks on a cellphone while crossing an intersection near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., where a city ordinance makes it illegal for pedestrians to be on a handheld device while crossing intersections. Distracted pedestrians are winding up in emergency rooms across the country, and their preoccupation with their electronic devices may be one reason for a rise in pedestrian deaths. In Fort Lee, the town has responded by fining distracted pedestrians $85. The state of Delaware has put signs on sidewalks urging pedestrians who are looking down to raise their eyes so they can watch where they?re going. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, JULY 30 AND THEREAFTER - This undated handout image provided by Delaware State Office of Highway Safety shows a the decal aimed at getting distracted pedestrians to look up from their mobile devices and watch where theyíre walking. The decals are 2 feet by 2 feet, made of nonskid material. Across the country on city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with their head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn't as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real. (AP Photo/Delaware State Office of Highway Safety)
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WASHINGTON >> A young man talking on a cellphone meanders along the edge of a lonely train platform at night. Suddenly he stumbles, loses his balance and pitches over the side, landing head first on the tracks.

Fortunately there were no trains approaching the Philadelphia-area station at that moment, because it took the man several minutes to recover enough to climb out of danger. But the incident, captured last year by a security camera and provided to The Associated Press, underscores the risks of what government officials and safety experts say is a growing problem: distracted walking.

On city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with his head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn’t as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real.

Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.

“We are where we were with cellphone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew it was a problem, but we didn’t have the data,” said Jonathan Akins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.

State and local officials are struggling to figure out how to respond, and in some cases asking how far government should go in trying to protect people from themselves.

In Delaware, highway safety officials opted for a public education campaign, placing decals on crosswalks and sidewalks at busy intersections urging pedestrians to “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”

Philadelphia officials are drafting a safety campaign that will be aimed in part at pedestrians who are looking at their devices instead of where they’re going. “One of the messages will certainly be ‘pick your head up’ — I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.

As an April Fool’s Day joke with a serious message, Philadelphia officials taped off an “e-lane” for distracted pedestrians on a sidewalk outside downtown office buildings.

Some didn’t get that it was a joke.

“The sad part is we had people who, once they realized we were going to take the e-lane away, got mad because they thought it was really helpful to not have people get in their way while they were walking and texting,” Cutler said.

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