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. Fred

    People walk into the wall at my office EVERY day!

    May 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Paula

    I worry that my kids text while they drive. If If you are concerned that your child is texting and driving, please download MMGuardian Parental Control FREE from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mmguardian&hl=en
    It disables your teen's ability to text while operating a vehicle, so they stay safe!

    July 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Zack

    People need to relax. This guy claims that listening to music while walking is distracting. So what's next? No radios in cars either? Look, people are going to use their cell phones and you aren't going to stop them (regardless of what laws you might want to pass). The key is to provide better tools to allow it to happen while maintaining safety! You are fooling yourself if you think you can just pass a law and think magically people will stop using their cell phones. Wake up, folks.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    What I don't understand, if cell phone providers are working so hard on anti texting while driving champaignes. Why don't they make texting not work while driving and resolve this once and for all? I know there are apps you can download to prevent this, but it should be a standard, not an option. It's a tuff line, but how many people have to get injured or killed before any action is taken? I have driving teenagers, and I have pounded this in their head, so far so good. But those are my kids!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    I've got a nice big scar on the back of my left hand from tripping on the sidewalk while texting and walking. I chose to protect my phone instead of my hand in that instant reaction mode. I now have an ugly reminder and feel stupid every time I look at my hand.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. jeff

    It should be 10 years in jail (1st offense) for texting and walking......

    October 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
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