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Americans LOVE their cellphones. They love to talk, text, check email, play games, catch up on work, listen to a favorite playlist, update social networking sites, make plans, stay abreast of news and find local deals. It's like the world is right at your fingertips, and multitasking is no longer a foreign concept for most people. All these things and more can be done on an internet-enabled smart phone, but that's not necessarily a good thing. With more than 250,000,000 cell phone users across the country, more and more people are becoming engrossed in the virtual world and not paying enough attention to the real one.

The dangers of texting while driving have been gaining attention for several years now, and many states have put regulations in place to ban the practice, citing the increased risk for accidents that comes along with being distracted by sending or reading text messages.

Now, though, the admonition against texting is moving out of the car and on to the sidewalk. Researchers, pundits, safety watchdog groups and medical professionals are all advising caution to those who text and walk or become engrossed in conversations while taking a stroll: you are putting your life at risk, and risking the lives of those around you.

The reality

Most people assume they can walk and hold a heated conversation at the same time. Many also think that they are aware enough of their surroundings to text, check email or tune out the ambient noise by putting in some earphones and cranking up their favorite artist. Unfortunately, though, most people have grossly overestimated their ability to multitask, and a recent informal study in Seattle helps explain how that can be dangerous.

The researchers observed 1,000 random people at crosswalks around the city to gain insight into pedestrian behavior. Some pedestrians remembered all the important lessons about crossing the street, including looking both ways first, paying attention to traffic signals and using properly marked crosswalks. Those people were, for the most part, not splitting their attention between the roadway and an electronic device.

The people who were distracted by cell phones, tablets, e-readers or mp3 players tended to take longer to cross the street and often neglected to look both ways before crossing. The people who were texting took a full two seconds longer to cross, largely ignored traffic control devices, failed to look before entering the road and drifted out of the clearly delineated boundaries of crosswalks.

The impact

The study, though informal in nature and unable to gather hard and fast data about the precise danger posed by texting while walking, does give credence to a theory that has been hitting airwaves for the past several years as text messaging has become more prevalent: it can be just as dangerous on the sidewalk as it is in the car.

When a person is both texting and walking into traffic, he not only puts himself at risk, he also puts his fellow pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and emergency personnel at risk, since someone trying to avoid him could easily collide with another vehicle, a different pedestrian, a bicyclist, a scooter/moped rider or a stationary object.

Data is still needed to determine just how big an impact texting while walking will have on our society, especially as high gas prices, environmental awareness and concerns about obesity have increased the numbers of pedestrians. The fact remains, though, that there are tens of thousands of injury-causing pedestrian-versus-car accidents annually, and about 4,000 people lose their lives. That is why you should always use common sense and follow the rules of the road when crossing the street, staying alert to dangers coming from motorists as well as from fellow pedestrians.

If you have been injured in a pedestrian accident due to the negligent or reckless behavior of a pedestrian, bicyclist or automobile driver, consider speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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The Injury Law Center - Law Offices of Jack Bloxham is a personal injury plaintiff law firm that represents clients in negligence and wrongful death litigation related to motor vehicle accidents of all kinds in the Greater Bay Area of Northern California; most notably in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Santa Clara County, and Solano County. The Injury Law Center has offices in San Jose, Walnut Creek, Fremont - Hayward, and Oakland. If you are handicapped and unable to come to one of our offices we will come to you. We're usually just minutes away if you live in San Jose, San Francisco, Pittsburg, Richmond, Dublin, Concord, Fairfield, Benicia, Vallejo, Los Gatos, Napa, Pleasanton, Livermore, Antioch, Walnut Creek, Hayward, Fremont, Union City, Santa Cruz, San Mateo or other nearby Bay Area town or city.