If you’re texting while you’re walking, you might as well be drunk. At the very least, texting while traipsing down the street makes you walk funny, according to a new study by researchers in Australia.
“Reading and texting on a phone influence your ability to walk, but the problems we see are much greater when you text than when you read,” says the study’s lead author, physical therapist Siobhan Schabrun of the University of Western Sydney in Australia. “It is hard not to text while walking, but people have to be very careful. â?¦ We need to be aware.”
The researchers examined 26 people who had owned their smartphones for more than three months and used them daily. Participants were asked to walk a straight line while not using a phone, while reading a passage on a phone, and then while texting on a phone. Eight cameras monitored the subjects’ gait, body position and head inclination.
The researchers found that people walked more slowly while reading and even more slowly while texting. Using a phone also necessitated less head movement and reduced arm swing, which affected the subjects’ balance.
The changes seen by the researchers can put pedestrians at risk. Walkers who drift away from their intended path can stray into traffic or down a steep drop. People who walk stiffly are at greater risk of falling if they hit an obstacle, because their limited movements make them less likely to catch themselves, Schabrun says. The results are reported in today’s PLOS ONE, a scientific journal.
The study is “excellent,” says Stony Brook University’s Lisa Muratori, a behavioral neuroscientist who was not involved in the new research and who has also studied walking during cellphone use. She says it’s certainly plausible to think that changes in head movement could cause trouble.
What is immediately clear is that texting while walking can make people as accident-prone as if they were drunk. There are countless surveillance and dashcam videos of smartphone users walking into fountains, off train platforms and straight into oncoming traffic. Add drivers distracted by their own smartphone apps, and it can lead to deadly consequences.
The study was published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed online journal that publishes reports on primary research from a variety of scientific disciplines.
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