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Study reveals why you should never text while you’re walking

We all know our phones are a distraction, but new research suggests it’s not even safe to send texts while walking.

We’ve all had the odd accidental bump or trip navigating a crowded train platform at peak hour. But is having our eyes constantly glued to our screens while on the go putting us in serious danger?

Texting while driving is universally accepted as a bad idea, but new research suggests typing replies while out and about on foot can be just as risky. 

In a study led by senior author Matthew Brodie, Neuroscience Research Australia enlisted 50 young adults (and their phones) from the University of New South Wales to take part in the experiment. 

The aim of the research? To conclude whether walking and texting simultaneously was putting people at serious risk.

„I wanted to know if these dangers are real or imagined and to measure the risk in a repeatable way,“ Brodie told the ABC.

Breaking down the experiment

Armed with their smartphones (and a safety harness to avoid completely falling), the 50 participants were asked to complete six walking tasks and one seated assignment. 

For accuracy, the walking tasks were undertaken twice, once while texting, and again hands-free.

Monitoring motion sensors attached to their head, torso, pelvis and feet, researchers examined how each participant anticipated falling across a range of hazard levels. 

The hazard levels tested were:

  • Seated
  • Normal walk: walking with no threat of slipping
  • Threat: walking with the threat of slipping
  • Slip: walking with a 70cm slip hazard

The surprising findings

When it came to examining the 50 student responses to the tasks, Brodie found the level of variety surprising. 

„Some slowed down and took a more cautious approach. Others sped up in anticipation of slipping. Such different approaches reinforce how no two people are the same, and to better prevent accidents from texting while walking, multiple strategies may be needed,“ Brodie said.

While the way each student approached the experiment may have slightly differed, the overall results demonstrated texting caused a clear impairment to their focus and ability to anticipate falling. 

Think of the ducking typos

When asked to walk and type the phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’, researchers also found the participants experienced more inaccuracies in an attempt to avoid tripping over.  

With the findings of the study revealing a clear risk in texting while walking, researchers are suggesting the implementation of locking technology in mobile phones (similar to what is used to limit phone use while driving).

But with any long-term tech solutions still in the ideation stage, for now, it’s up to the individual to take responsibility for their own safety. 

So next time you feel the urge to text while on the move, maybe take a moment to sit down and finish your message, or at the very least try standing still. 

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