Sunday, October 13, 2013

Australia's obsession with smartphones and tablets could be killing us

WHAT is the world coming to? Why are mobile phones and tablets taking over our lives? And what on earth can we do about it? 
There are five billion mobile phone users in the world - 1.5 billion of those are smartphone users. Recent studies have shown that people check their phones up to 150 times a day.

But while mobile technology definitely has its benefits, the pitfalls are proving potentially fatal. Smartphones and tablets are increasingly discovered as being the cause of many pedestrian injuries and deaths in Australia and the rest of the world.

Using your phone while driving is illegal, so what should be done about distracted pedestrians who put their own lives and the lives of others at risk when they cross the road? Should this be illegal too?

Unfortunately, it's hard to gather statistics on mobile-related accidents because there are no official figures. According to Police Superintendent John Hartley, people who survive are unlikely to admit they were using a phone at the time they were hit.

Chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia Harold Scruby said he had conducted spot tests in various places in Sydney and found one in 10 pedestrians were using a mobile device while crossing the road. Mr Scruby said that distracted mobile users are "like sheep", who follow others across the road without looking.


In the last two years in Australia there have been multiple accidents related to mobile phones.

In July 2012 a distracted teenager was hit by a Melbourne tram while talking on her phone. She was trapped under the tram for half an hour before being hospitalised with a broken rib.

That same month a man fell onto the train tracks while speaking on his mobile phone. He was rescued without harm, but it could have been a very different story if the train was approaching the platform.

CCTV footage of a man falling onto the rail lines while using his phone. Source: Supplied
And soon it may not just be cars, trains and trams that are killing and injuring distracted pedestrians. In an extreme case this week, CCTV footage was released showing a man pulling out a gun on a San Francisco train.

But when the man waved around his .45 pistol and pointed it at passengers near him, the commuters didn't even notice. Why? Because they were too engrossed with their mobile phones and tablets.


Research is calling this phenomenon 'inattentional blindness'. In a 2010 study by researchers at the Western Washington University, students walking across a large crowded courtyard were observed. A clown on a unicycle was moving about the courtyard as a test stimulus.

Students who passed through the courtyard were asked if they had seen anything unusual. The study found that mobile phone users were the least likely to admit they'd seen the clown. Mobile users were also found to walk more slowly, weave around people and make sudden direction changes. These actions are a dangerous combination when combined with crossing busy city streets.

Woman distracted by her phone wanders onto the road and has a near miss with a cyclist in Sydney. Source: Supplied

The evidence is clear. Like it or not, extreme phone distraction and 'inattentional blindness' is becoming a huge road safety issue. How important is your mobile or tablet screen really, in comparison to the importance of saving your own life or the lives of others? 12 Oct 2013

Victoria, is arguably one of the most policed states in Australia.

Should there be another law protecting people from their stupidity?

Nature's law of survival of the fittest should prevail.

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