Better be careful if you use that e-reader while walking. The Washington Post has an Associated Press story on walker distraction causing accidents and injuries. According to the AP, reports of distracted walkers being treated at hospitals have more than quadrupled over the last 7 years, and there are almost certainly plenty of such accidents that don’t get reported. It’s unclear how many of these accidents can be attributed to personal electronics, but it may be due at least in part to e-reading’s rapid surge in popularity over the last few years.

Of course, e-reading is far from the only distracting thing that people can do with portable electronics. Talking on a cell phone, listening to music, playing games, surfing the web—anything that can keep your eyes off the road or block the sound from your ears can be potentially hazardous. The AP discusses various measures some states are doing to try to call attention to or prevent the problem, and shows some figures on the problem:

About 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. last year for injuries suffered while walking and using a cellphone or some other electronic device, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which receives annual data from 100 emergency rooms and extrapolates the information into a national estimate. But that’s likely an underestimate because patients may not mention they were using a cellphone or other device at the time at the time they were injured, or the doctor or nurse may neglect to include the information in their report, said Tom Schroeder, director of the commission’s data systems.

This has long been known to be a problem. iPhone e-reading app MegaReader tried to provide a somewhat safer solution by adding an augmented reality background, showing the image from the iPhone’s camera behind the words as you’re walking. But while that’s a cute idea (and made for a hilarious video advertisement), it still means you’re staring at a little space ahead of you and not paying attention to what’s beside or behind.

And we should remember that the problem didn’t originate with gadgets, either. As long as books have been small and light enough to hold while walking, someone’s been in danger from reading while walking of the non-technologically-assisted kind. Still, with so many really popular gadgets, being used even by people aren’t the sort to go around with their noses in a book, it’s easy to see why it’s happening more and more.

Remember, if you’re gonna read, read responsibly. Or you might have cause to be glad your device has so many books on it you can use to pass the time while you’re waiting in the emergency room.


  1. As a bicyclist in Washington, DC, I have noted a marked increase in pedestrians walking out in front of me to cross a street because they are reading or using a device, and trusting their ears to warn them of approaching vehicles (and since I make no noise, I always surprise them), or even better, listening to earbuds or headphones while reading a device while walking. Yes, the problem is getting worse.

    Humans have an uncanny ability to filter out that which does not concern them. You could be staring directly at the horizon while reading something through a transparent screen or glasses in front of you, and still filter out the background to the extent that you’d run into light poles and trip over curbs.

    In such cases, putting the device away until you get where you’re going would be best.

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