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Distracted Walking; Heads up, Phones Down

By Terry L. Todd | 502d Air Base Wing Occupational Safety | Feb. 5, 2020


Unforgiving lessons are learned from the deaths and pointless injuries that occur due to the failure of individuals to exercise sound personal risk management.

The Joint Base San Antonio Safety Office staff has many opportunities to observe people’s behavior. One thing they have noticed is an increase of people -- civilian, military and dependents alike -- spending a large amount time looking down. 

No, they are not looking at their feet to see if their shoes are untied; they are looking at their cell phones. These individuals are participating in a very dangerous habit ... TEXTING WHILE WALKING. 

Distracted walking, or texting while walking, injuries are on the rise. It has become such a big problem that Injury Facts® 2015, the statistical report on unintentional deaths and injuries published by the National Safety Council, included statistics on cell phone distracted walking for the first time. You may be surprised by their findings.

Distracted walking incidents are on the rise, and everyone with a cell phone is at risk. We are losing focus on our surroundings and putting our safety at risk. The solution: Stop using phones while walking, and not just in crosswalks and intersections. Over half of distracted walking injuries occur in our own homes, proving that we need to stay aware of our surroundings whether indoors and out.

Unintentional injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Just take the time to look around your unit, the installation, even your home, and almost every individual you see has some form of cellular communications device. That makes this issue even more serious.

Fifty-two percent of distracted walking incidents involving cell phones happen at home – not near roadways as many might believe, according to a study in the Journal of Safety Research. Fifty-four percent are people ages 40 or younger, while 21 percent of those injured were 71 and older.

Talking on the phone accounted for 62 percent of injuries. The most common of which were dislocations or fractures, sprains or strains and concussions. Nearly 80 percent of the injuries were due to a fall.

The increase in cell phone distracted walking injuries parallel the eight-fold increase in cell phone use in the last 15 years.

It is just as important to walk cell phone free, as it is to drive using hands-free devices. Pedestrians and drivers using cell phones are both “impaired and too mentally distracted” to focus on their surroundings, according to the National Safety Council. 

For pedestrians, this distraction can cause them to trip, cross roads unsafely or walk into stationary objects such as street signs, doors, furniture, walls or even parked cars.

Here are a few tips from NHTSA and NSC for children and adults of all ages:

  • Look left, right and left again before crossing the street; looking left a second time is necessary because a car can cover a lot of distance in a short amount of time
  • Make eye contact with drivers of oncoming vehicles to make sure they see you
  • Be aware of drivers even when you're in a crosswalk; vehicles have blind spots
  • Don't wear headphones while walking
  • Never use a cell phone or other electronic device while walking
  • If your view is blocked, move to a place where you can see oncoming traffic
  • Never rely on a car to stop
  • Children younger than 10 should cross the street with an adult
  • Only cross at designated crosswalks
  • Wear bright and/or reflective clothing
  • Walk in groups

To help keep you safe as you and your family walk across the Joint Base San Antonio commissary, Exchange, work center or roadway parking lots, remember distracted walking (texting while walking) is dangerous walking. Common sense says “Just Don’t Do It.”


For military-unique requirements of walking and texting in uniform, refer to your branch and unit specific uniform wear regulations.