Texting while walking a dangerous experiment in multitasking
Lucky Larroso didn't think she was in any danger as she crossed West 57th Street in New York while typing a text message.
May 26th, 2012
12:35 PM ET

Texting while walking a dangerous experiment in multitasking

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN Radio National Correspondent

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast from Steve Kastenbaum about the dangers of texting while walking.

The old joke about a not-so-bright person goes, “He’s so dumb, he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Very little thought goes into either task. But what happens if you combine walking and texting?

“People aren’t watching where they are walking. They’re texting, they’re on their cell phones, they have their iPods on, and they’re just not aware of their surroundings,” said Thomas Ripoli, the police chief in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

CNN Radio's Steve Kastenbaum reports on the potential dangers of texting

There has been an increase in the number of pedestrians struck by cars in his town this year. Four such incidents ended in death. So Ripoli went on a mission. He told his cops to look out for people who are not paying attention while crossing the street.

“Our focus is to make people aware of their surroundings and to keep their eyes focused on where they’re going,” Ripoli said.

Is texting while walking really dangerous, though? Most of us think we’re capable of doing more than one thing at once. Professor Earl Miller said that may be an illusion.

“We’re not wired to multitask well,” said Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

In the case of texting while walking, Miller says that cost is potentially the loss of life.

“The danger is that you don’t see what’s coming. The same constraints that make it a bad idea to text while you drive make it a bad idea to text while you walk.”

His studies show that the brain has a limited capacity to take in information at any one time.

“It only takes in the world little bits and chunks at a time,” Miller said. You may think that you have a seamless thread of data coming in about the things going on around you, but according to Miller, the reality is your brain “picks and chooses and anticipates what it thinks is going to be important, what you should pay attention to.”

So if you text, or look at an iPad, or even just listen to music in your headphones while walking, your brain does not receive all the information it may need to keep you safe.

Texting while driving laws are becoming commonplace across the country. So far no one has passed a texting while walking law, but that could change. In New York, a state senator wants to ban using cell phones, iPods and other gadgets while crossing the street. A local lawmaker in Arkansas has proposed similar legislation.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. ©bobcat (in a hat)©

    A man and his wife, now in their 60's, were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. On their special day a good fairy came to them and said that because they had been so good that each one of them could have one wish.
    The wife wished for a trip around the world with her husband. Whoosh! Immediately she had airline/cruise tickets in her hands.
    The man wished for a female companion 30 years younger... Whoosh...immediately he turned ninety!!! Gotta love that fairy!

    May 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unknown comic

      A deaf husband and a blind wife are always a happy couple.

      Your pulling out *all* the stops today I see ©bobcat (in a hat)©, hats off to you.

      May 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dazzle ©

    note to the faux one, the real TORI is blonde and wasn't on 57th in NY but her mom was.

    May 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ©bobcat (in a hat)©

    Everybody on earth dies and goes to heaven. God comes and says, "I want the men to form two queues - one line for the men that dominated their women on earth, and the other line for the men who were dominated by their women. Also, I want all the women to go with St. Peter."

    The next time God looked, the women are gone, and there are two lines. The line for the men who were dominated by their women was 100 miles long, and in the line of men who dominated their women there was only one man.

    God got mad and said, "You men should be ashamed of yourselves. I created you in my image, and you were all whipped by your mates. Look at the only one of my sons who stood up and made me proud. Learn from him! Tell them, my son, how did you manage to be the only one in this line?"

    The man replied, "I don't know, my wife told me to stand here."

    May 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Unknown comic

    A new, young MD when doing his residency in OB, was quite embarrassed performing female pelvic exams. To cover his embarrassment he had unconsciously formed a habit of whistling. The middle-aged lady upon whom he was performing this exam suddenly burst out laughing and further embarrassed him. He looked up from his work and sheepishly said, "I'm sorry. Was I tickling you?" She replied, "No doctor, but the song you were whistling was "I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wiener."

    May 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • ©bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ Unknown comic

      That was funny.

      May 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Wa wa

      May 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ©bobcat (in a hat)©

    A Couple Was Celebrating Their 50th Wedding Anniversary, The Man Looks At His Wife As Asks "what Would U Like To Do For Our Anniversary?" She Then Replies "we Could Run Upstairs And Make Love" He Says "make Up Your Mind, We Can't Do Both."

    May 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mickey1313

    I wonder what is going on in our nation. It is a RIGHT to walk anywhere on public ground. Driving is a PRIVILEGE, the drivers are responsible in ALL instances. This line of thought is ridiculous.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • ©bobcat (in a hat)©

      The only problem with that mickey, is the drivers are too busy texting as well.

      May 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      @bob, touche

      May 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dazzle ©

    @bobcat(in a hat) that one is excellent. LOL, you did a masterful job today.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ©bobcat (in a hat)©

    @dazzle ©

    Thank you very much. At least they let them stay up for a while today.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Unknown comic

    That one was cute. Awww... So sweet.

    May 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dazzle ©

    Mary or more like troll of Mary, that is a terrible thing to say about @bobcat. He is anything but dull and boring. How can you wish a divorce on someone who has managed to beat the odds of a relationship?

    May 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Many people were just full of hate

      May 27, 2012 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. madmaninthemiddle

    I am writing this post as I approach an intersection and I just want to say thaaaaaaaaaaaa

    May 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Old Man without kitteh

    In the old days, text meant words, not alphabet soup.

    May 27, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. ♚Mmmmm♛

    mmm...walkin' while texting WWT was probally hit by a drivin' while texting DWT..

    May 27, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  14. Muddy Waters


    May 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OnTheRoad

    OK, so you can get hurt (or even killed) trying to text and walk at the same time. But is this something that our government should be wasting it's time on? Is it really the governments job to ensure that you can not do anything that is stupid? If we start making being stupid a crime, then we will have to arrest 99% of our current politicans!!

    May 28, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
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