Zombie pedestrian? Don’t wind up needing an X-ray…

Now that I’m a local celebrity (yes, that’s right, a local celebrity) it’s far from uncommon to see members of the public reach for their smartphones as they become intoxicated by my very presence.

Smartphones have seemingly infinite uses, from taking a cheeky snap of a rather handsome bear… to sharing those valuable images with friends so they can join you in sheer marvel.

But the rising ubiquity of these devices is creating some serious safety risks, as Aston expert Dr Jo Lumsden has been telling me.

Do you use your smartphone while you’re walking? Have you ever bumped into something or someone because you’re using your smartphone? Have you ever had an accident because you weren’t paying attention to things around you when you were using your smartphone?

If you have, you’re not the only one!  The number of people being hurt while using their smartphones is on the up.  People are reporting all sorts of injuries as a result of using their smartphones while walking; sadly, some people have even died as a result of walking out in front of traffic when using their smartphone.

Researchers at Aston University have shown that people fail to spot one out of every five dangers around them when they are texting and walking [1].  Another study has shown that children using smartphones take 20% longer to cross the street and look both ways 20% less often than if they weren’t using a smartphone and, as a result, are 43% more likely to be hit by a car [2].

Almost ¾ of drivers say they have seen ‘zombie pedestrians’ step out into traffic without looking because they are so busy with their smartphones.  In fact, as many as 17 car accidents a day are likely the result of pedestrians who are not paying attention when they go to cross a road [3].

When people try to use their smartphones while they are doing other things – like walking or crossing the street – they are said to suffer from ‘divided attention’ or ‘unintentional blindness’.  In other words, they can’t concentrate properly on two things at once, and normally their smartphone wins the battle for their attention, which can prove to be very dangerous.

Jo Lumsden, School of Engineering & Applied Science

Researchers in the Aston Interactive Media (AIM) Lab at Aston University are investigating new ways to interact with smartphones so you don’t have to divide your attention between your smartphone and the world around you; they are also developing new methods to test how safe smartphones are to use when out and about.

So, until our smartphones are a bit smarter, what can you do to be smart and stay safe when you’re using your smartphone?  Avoid ‘distracted walking’ and follow the ASTON guide to safe smartphone use so that you don’t have to visit the hospital for an x-ray like Ed:

Avoid walking and using your smartphone if at all possible.

Stand still, in a safe place, out of people’s way to use your smartphone.

Turn down the volume in your headphones so you can hear what’s happening around you.

Only use your smartphone if you have checked it’s safe to do so first.

Never cross the street while using your smartphone.


[1] Crease, M., Lumsden, J., & Longworth, B., (2007), A Technique for Incorporating Dynamic Paths in Lab-Based Mobile Evaluations, in Proc. BCS HCI’2007, p. 99-108

[2] https://www.compliance.gov/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Walking-Hazards-April-2010-Fast-Fact.pdf

[3] Pedestrian Smartphone Distraction – https://www.theaa.com/newsroom/aa-news-2016/pedestrian-smart-phone-distraction.html