Why Smartphones and Walking Don’t Mix

Google might have a solution

Key Takeaways

  • Hundreds of people are injured every year due to distractions while walking and using their smartphone.
  • Google is reportedly working on a new feature that will prompt users to stop looking at their phones while walking.
  • One city in Japan has even banned the use of phones while walking.
smiling man looking at his phone at night with blurred people passing nearby

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Walking while using a phone can be hazardous, but new apps may help distracted pedestrians.  

According to a recent report, Android devices are getting a new feature that will prompt users to stop staring at their phones while walking. It’s one of a variety of software solutions to aid people who keep using their phones despite running into objects. The new software hasn’t been rolled out yet, but apparently works by giving you a reminder to "watch your step with heads up," according to recently uncovered screenshots.

"Just like distracted driving, distracted walking is a significant safety threat because people are not fully focused on their surroundings," Karen Condor, a safety expert with 4AutoInsuranceQuote.com, said in an email interview. "Despite our frequent desire to multitask, the human brain has evolved to only adequately focus attention on one task at a time."

Software Solutions to Combat a Real Danger

There are a number of software solutions to help those who can’t bear to put their phone away while walking. iType2Go, for example, puts the camera's view directly beneath the message you’re composing, giving you enough visual aid to help you avoid obstacles. 

The Type n Walk app is a similar concept that displays a transparent viewport of what's directly in front of you. "This, combined with your peripheral vision, is just enough visual information to help you avoid obstacles—like walking face-first into a tree," the developers claim on their website. 

"Just like distracted driving, distracted walking is a significant safety threat because people are not fully focused on their surroundings."

A 2015 report by the National Safety Council showed that walking while texting increases the risk of accidents. More than 11,000 people were injured between 2000 and 2011 while walking and talking on their phones.

Yamato City in Japan has even banned pedestrians from using their phones while walking. The phenomenon of walking while phoning is so widespread there’s even a term in Japanese for people who do it: aruki-sumaho (literally, smartphone-walking). Last year, the city conducted a study that found about 12% of its 6,000 recorded pedestrians were using their phones while walking.

Lucas Travis knows firsthand the dangers of talking on the phone while walking. He was on his way to a local coffee shop recently while scrolling through the news. 

"As usual, I was scrolling through my feed and I remember laughing about this meme," he said. "I lost focus on where I was heading and bumped my head into a pole because I wasn't paying attention. A few people saw me and it was really embarrassing."

Tips If You Really Must Walk and Phone

Condor has some advice for would-be phone walkers. If you have to deal with your phone while you’re walking, hold the phone up higher in your field of view to help you see potential risks to avoid, she said. 

"Look away from your device every few seconds to assess your surroundings, and install software that reads out messages and that employs voice recognition typing so you don’t have to continually look at your screen," she added.

"I lost focus on where I was heading and bumped my head into a pole because I wasn't paying attention."

But the best advice might be to just not use your phone while walking. "Move out of the way and stop on the sidewalk," she advised. 

Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband Search, also admitted walking into objects while looking at her phone. "When you have a lot on your plate, you sometimes need to work or catch up with messages while you walk," she said.

But these days, Diaz resists the temptation to do too much multitasking. 

"I think the key to not getting distracted by your phone while you walk is to put it away and on silent mode," Diaz said. "After all, if it’s not in your hand, you’re not going to be tempted to lift it up and start doing whatever it is that distracts you."

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