Hospital records from 2014 showed that distracted walking accounted for 78% of pedestrian injuries throughout the United States.
— Daily News, Sunday, March 27, 2016
A report released in 2015 by the Governors Highway Safety Association found an increase in pedestrian fatalities, and cited texting while walking as partly to blame. Nearly two million pedestrian injuries were related to cellphone use, the report said.
— Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, March 25, 2016
Attempts to repress human-powered movement invariably arise from three elements: a penchant for victim-blaming, officials’ “windshield perspective” that marginalizes and devalues people outside cars, and dubious statistics. All three, especially the last, have lately been on prominent display in New Jersey, where a member of the General Assembly has introduced legislation prescribing $50 fines and up to 15 days in jail for anyone operating a hand-held device while walking on a public thoroughfare in the Garden State.
While the quotes above appeared after the legislation was unveiled, the memes they embody have been around for awhile. The first quote, from the Daily News, originally ran in that paper in 2014. Here it is in full:
Distracted walking, like texting, emailing, Facebooking, tweeting, and Instagraming while stepping through the city streets, has accounted for 78% of pedestrian injuries across the country, a recent review of hospital records found. Daily News, Wednesday, August 6, 2014.
The second quote, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, followed a slightly more nuanced version from the Governors Highway Safety Association’s 2015 report, Everyone Walks:
Taking into account… research that suggests that the number of traffic crash-related injuries suffered by distracted drivers is actually 1,300 times higher than CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] national estimates, [Ohio State University] researchers projected “there may have been about 2 million pedestrian injuries related to cell phone use in 2010.”
As I show below, both assertions fall somewhere between bizarre and downright false. And both emanate from a single source: a 2013 article in the peer-reviewed journal Accident Analysis & Prevention. That article, “Pedestrian Injuries Due to Mobile Phone Use in Public Places,” by Ohio State University planning professor Jack Nasar and Ohio DOT engineer Derek Troyer, isn’t solely to blame for the first misstatement, but it’s squarely on the hook for the second.