The Texting Dead: The Dangers of Texting While Walking

In this age of technology we are more connected than ever before. With the touch of a smartphone we are whisked into a world of social media, virtual interaction and information. Facebook, texting, Twitter, Instagram, online dating, email and Google, to name a few, have allowed us to redefine intimacy and engagement. However, as important as these virtual connections are, it is equally important to be present and aware of our actual surroundings.

In recent years, texting while walking (TWW) has attracted attention for the dangers it poses to pedestrians. Statistics aren’t required to note the trend of TWW. When walking down a city block, people no longer pay attention to what’s in front of them. Their faces are buried in smart phones while navigating dangerous traffic, uneven sidewalks, other pedestrians and waiting on train platforms. The data behind TWW related injuries and deaths isn’t precise lack of witnesses, doctors and nurses failing to make note, and victims unable or understandably too embarrassed to explain how the mishap occurred. Experts believe the number of pedestrian-texting injuries – mostly facial fractures, nosebleeds and lacerations to the feet and ankles—may exceed two million per year, with estimated deaths at a minimum of 4500 per year. The precise numbers aren’t the primary concern of officials; it’s the rising trends that worry them. Documented TWW accidents have doubled since 2005 and are expected to double, at the very least, by 2015.

Recently, a study set out to determine exactly why texting while walking is hazardous to our physical health and well-being. Researchers studied both reading and texting, as well as the impact on other people around the texter. They concluded that it can, understandably, “negatively impact the balance system” exposing individuals to not just catastrophic accident risks but also long-term damage to posture:

In comparison with normal waking, when participants read or wrote text messages they walked with: greater absolute lateral foot position from one stride to the next; slower speed; greater rotation range of motion (ROM) of the head with respect to global space; the head held in a flexed position; more in-phase motion of the thorax and head in all planes, less motion between thorax and head (neck ROM); and more tightly organized coordination in lateral flexion and rotation directions.

Anatomy aside, consider this: it’s believed that Americans spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes using their smartphones in a non-talking capacity (i.e. reading, writing or playing games). How much of that time is spent texting or emailing while walking? The reality is that we weren’t designed to text while walking; we were designed to walk, look up and pay attention.

With access to technology, mindfulness of our non-virtual environment takes even more practice. The promise of better posture and safety may not be as attractive as the immediate comforts of connecting with others instantly. It is easy to forget that the world around us holds more mystery, beauty and awe than the world beyond our new Retina display.


I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman