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Defensive walking vs. Distracted walking

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A pedestrian crosses the street while using her cell phone in downtown Orlando.

Here’s the question: Should people who are walking maintain the same degree of focus we expect of drivers?

Let’s put it to the test. In this corner, we’ve got: the data.

Researchers have found that texting changes the way we walk. Texters tend to slow down, shorten their stride and veer off-course, even going off sidewalks.

That leads us to inattentional blindness. The Wall Street Journal reported it’s real. Absorbed in a phone, your ability to notice things and people around you reaches surprising low levels. We’re talking invisible Wookie levels.

You’ve probably heard that texting while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. So does that mean texters on foot are putting themselves at as much risk? And should we expect them to put their phones away?

But there are two sides to every debate.

Streetsblog USA, an online news source focused on transportation and livable communities, takes issue with the suggestion that pedestrians should take on the same level of responsibility as motorists because driving is a privilege that can be revoked for carelessness.

Writer Tanya Snyder argues that while distracted pedestrians might not be perfectly safe, they’re not causing any danger “until you add cars to the equation.” The structural inequality of cities designed for drivers, not walkers, increases the likelihood of incidents.

At the end of the day, there are no winners in this “fight,” despite the cheers from opposing sides. While “eyes on the road, not on the screen” should be a mantra to anyone behind a wheel, it doesn’t hurt to add “phone down” to “look both ways.” Joint defensiveness from drivers and walkers can ensure that lives are not lost due to distractions.

The argument, however, is more than academic. People hit by cars are one of the top five types of trauma treated at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.

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