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Calling & Falling

November 12, 2012, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

Calling & Falling

Sioux Falls has clamped-down on distracted driving by banning texting while behind the wheel.  But some states have proposed outlawing another dangerous distraction.  Pedestrian accidents are up nationwide, in part, because of people paying more attention to their cell phones than where they're walking.

Internet videos of stumbles and tumbles are viral reminders of the dangers pedestrians pose to themselves and to others when they're too preoccupied with their cell phones.

"It's a matter of, as is often the case, of over-estimating your capability," Sanford Health emergency room physician Dr. Chris Carlisle said.

Carlisle knows first-hand about getting off on the wrong foot.

"There have been a couple of times when I've been walking and texting and missed a step.  I haven't hit the ground yet, but I should know better," Carlisle said.

Carlisle was able to dodge disaster during one of his close calls.

"And I almost ran into an elderly lady.  Boy, if I had knocked her down, I'd be sufficiently embarrassed to where I might change my habits," Carlisle said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a pedestrian is injured every eight minutes in a crash.

"So if you're connected to the telephone conversation, you may be looking, but you're not seeing," Diane Hall of the South Dakota Safety Council said.

But it's hard to pinpoint how many injuries are the result of distracted walking since we're often too embarrassed to admit to it.

"People just aren't maybe going to volunteer the fact that I was texting when I ran into that wall," Hall said.

We wanted to see for ourselves just who's walking distracted and why.  Within five minutes, we spotted a Mormon missionary from California on his cell phone.

"I grew up in a beach community, and everything's just a little more loose there," Steven Bell of Laguna Beach, California said.

Bell was checking his messages while walking down Minnesota Avenue.

"I don't think it's the safest thing to do.  Just sometimes it's like, 'Oh yeah, I forgot to check the phone.  Let's see if anybody's there.'  Instead of stopping, it's just like trying to always move and do stuff like that," Bell said.

Walking and talking come naturally to us.  But place an electronic device between our eyes and our feet and suddenly, we're easily misled.

"Your brain flips back and forth and while you're texting you may run into the wall, or another person," Hall said.

"You'd be surprised at how much damage you can do from a ground level fall, from just broken bones to broken heads," Carlisle said.

Carlisle says banning texting and walking isn't the answer.  Instead, according to the experts, applying common sense is the best way to make greater strides in safety.

"Walk when you're walking, talk when you're talking and divide the two activities," Halls said.

"And so ask yourself before you start texting or talking on the phone while you're moving in any way, whether it's really, really all that important and in almost every case, it's not," Carlisle said.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,100 people went to the emergency room last year for suffering injuries while walking and using an electronic device.
Bills calling for limits to distracted walking so far haven't received much legislative support in states like Illinois, New York and Arkansas.

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