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Blinded by Distraction: Paying Attention Crucial for Pedestrians, Too

Much has been written and reported about the dangers associated with distracted driving. Studies have shown that driving while talking on your cell phone, texting, sending emails or adjusting your MP3 player, among other new-age distractions, can be as deadly as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But while the focus of most information about this dangerous habit has been largely on those behind the wheel of a car, many may not know that a distracted pedestrian can also cause a tragic car crash.

Research has discovered that many people are unaware of their surroundings while simultaneously walking and using their phone or listening to music. Experiments undertaken by Western Washington University studied groups of pedestrians, and grouped them according to whether they were alone or with other people, were on their cell phone, sending a text message, listening to music through their earphones or simply walking without any electronic devices. The research project found that people who were using cell phones were more likely to walk at a slower pace, change directions more frequently and were less likely to acknowledge others than did those walking while not on their phones. To further test the attentiveness of pedestrians, the researchers added a distracting visual element to the mix – a clown on a unicycle – in order to gauge how many walkers recollected noticing it. Not surprisingly, they found that cell phone users were less likely to have noticed the somewhat unusual activity.

The term for this phenomenon is inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness. While the Western Washington University study was one of the most recent, it was not the first – others have been done by Harvard University, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Illinois – Champagne Urbana. The phrase was first coined in 1992 by Arien Mack, a psychologist at the New School for Social Research, and Irvin Rock of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. The studies typically ask a group of subjects to watch a video or look at a computer screen showing an activity they are asked to follow closely, and afterwards report on what they have seen. In some versions, an intentionally distracting element is added, such as a person in a gorilla suit. Researchers have found that up to 50% of subjects are so focused on watching for what they are told to look for, that they report no recollection of seeing the gorilla suit.

Of course, what all this research means to the man on the street – literally, in this case – is that pedestrians who aren’t paying attention as they walk are in danger of becoming an accident statistic, risking serious injury or even death.

“We’ve all seen people who step out in front of a moving vehicle, oblivious to their surroundings,” says P.J. Scheiner, attorney with Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner Personal Injury Lawyers, P.A. “These potentially dangerous occurrences can happen in a parking lot, on a sidewalk or any scenario where people and cars are in close proximity.” Florida personal injury lawyers caution you to remain focused while walking near vehicular traffic, and reduce your risk of injury by refraining from the use of distracting electronic devices that may take your attention away from your intended path.

Since 1971, Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Personal Injury Lawyers has made it its mission to fight for justice on behalf of those injured due to the negligence of another. If you have suffered an injury involving a vehicle vs. pedestrian accident, we welcome the opportunity to evaluate your circumstances through a no obligation consultation. If we handle your case and fight for your legal rights, you will pay us nothing unless we win. For details, call 1-800-Dial-BLS, or visit

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