James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Texting and walking: Unbalanced and dangerous

Texting and walking has always been tricky - and now it's been proved to increase your risk of being hit by a vehicle. Photo / Thinkstock
Texting and walking has always been tricky - and now it's been proved to increase your risk of being hit by a vehicle. Photo / Thinkstock

Texting and walking can affect a person's balance and leave them prone to being struck by motor vehicles, new research shows.

Scientists from the University of Queensland have released new research that shows texting - and to a lesser extent reading content like emails - modified the body's movement while walking.

In comparison with normal walking, when the study's participants were texting they walked more slowly, deviated more from a straight line and moved their neck less.

One of the study's authors, Dr Siobhan Schabrun, said the research released today showed that in a pedestrian environment the inability of texters to maintain their balance or walk in a straight path "may impact the safety of people who text and walk at the same time".

The study in the scientific journal PLOS One said the dangers of texting while driving had received considerable interest but attention had only recently shifted to safety risks associated with texting while walking.

It showed that people who texted while crossing the street in a virtual pedestrian environment were more likely to be distracted and experienced more hits by motor vehicles.

It also found that using the email function on a mobile phone, which employs similar cognitive and manual demands as texting, reduces gait velocity, stride length and stance phase during walking.

"These findings, coupled with a sharp increase in the number of pedestrians injured while talking or texting on a mobile phone since 2006, have led to bans on texting while walking in some towns in the United States."

The researchers had 26 people walking at a comfortable pace in a straight line over a distance of approximately 8.5 m while doing one of three tasks: walking without the use of a phone, reading text on a mobile phone, or typing text on a mobile phone.

The body's movement was evaluated using a three-dimensional movement analysis system.

NZTA spokesman Anthony Firth said its statistics showed that five pedestrians who were killed between 2009 and 2013 were distracted by devices, that include cellphones, at the time.

A further 34 others suffered serious injuries.

AA communications manager Mike Noon said there was a red light-running epidemic in New Zealand so the research findings were not unexpected.

"Headphones and music is also an issue as it removes one of your senses - hearing - that could alert you to danger or a vehicle coming."

- NZ Herald

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