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Mobile Apps Work to Make Walking Safer
Increasingly, pedestrians are hurting themselves - or at least their egos - while texting (or talking) and walking. Image via NoHoDamon.

Increasingly, pedestrians are hurting themselves - or at least their pride- while texting (or talking) and walking. Image via NoHoDamon.

By now, the dangers of texting or talking on the phone while driving have been well-established. Nearly 30 percent of traffic accidents occur while people are talking or texting.

But what about pedestrians and bikers?

More and more, distracted pedestrians are falling into manholes, tripping on curbs or walking into traffic while they’re talking or texting.

A recent study from Ohio University — reportedly the first of its kind — confirmed what most of us have inferred anecdotally: over the past few years, emergency room visits for injuries incurred while using a cell phone and walking have doubled year-on-year, with 1,000 such visits in 2008.

Bikers are also succumbing to the constant distraction of their cell phones.  Some states have been considering extending distracted driving laws to include cyclists. Lawmakers argue that distracted cyclists can cause major traffic accidents.

Since pedestrians mostly put only themselves at risk, any legislation on “distracted walking” is unlikely (although New York and Illinois have considered such laws.) But lately, tech companies have stepped in to try to protect preoccupied pedestrians from, well, themselves.

SEE-THROUGH PHONES AND SUCH

According to a recent L.A. Times report, tech companies have been getting creative lately, producing apps that use a smartphone’s camera to make it “transparent” — making sure you spot that manhole just ahead — and transform your speech into text, so you can look ahead of you while texting or sending an email.

TextVision, Type n Walk, and Email ‘n Walk are among the most popular transparent-phone apps; Aliph’s Jawbone earpiece incorporates the voice-to-text technology, and also has a caller ID that speaks to the wearer, and allows the wearer to make calls by speaking the name of the contact they’d like to speak with.

Using the phone's camera, iPhone's Email n Walk app makes the phone transparent. Image via gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com.

Using the phone's camera, iPhone's Email 'n Walk app makes the phone transparent. Image via gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com.

While this is in important step in the right direction, Clifford Mass, a communications professor at Stanford University and an expert on multitasking, reminds us that the bigger issue is “engagement of the brain.”

He told the L.A. Times, “It can help a little bit but the fundamental problem is that we’re stuck with brains that can’t do all that much when we’re doing other things.”

YOU’RE GONNA TEXT, SO DON’T DRIVE…OR BIKE OR WALK?

Part of the problem might be a trend in public safety campaigns — although for now, this is most applicable with regard to distracted driving.

In the vein of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaigns and slogans like “Don’t Drink and Drive,” campaigns to cut out texting or talking while driving generally take driving as the inevitable factor.

Maybe talking, or texting — or drinking, as the case may be — should be considered inevitable, instead. In this case, public safety and awareness campaigns should focus more on discouraging driving.

Given that all of these hazards are making the streets more dangerous, the real push should be to get people on public transit, where they’re much safer and can text to their heart’s content.

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