Nearly everywhere and practically anytime, you’ll see people of all ages staring at Smartphones as if they were pets or love objects. While sitting and texting or reading or listening to music or watching videos, none of these should be mobile activities. These activities, city legislators seem to claim, divert attention from normal mobile responsibilities. Lawmakers are mow targeting texting on bicycles as a means of reducing associated mobile accidents.
Holding a phone and typing on a virtual keypad while moving about is a relatively irresponsible activity. Is it dangerous?
Statistics seems to indicate that, in 2011, over 20% of car accidents were related to cell phone use behind the steering wheel.
According to an Ohio State University study involving cell phones and walking, the number of walking accidents tripled from 2004 to 2010. Considering that smartphones became popular in 2008, texting capabilities may be associated with this rise.
Uses of smartphones and texting or browsing are being featured as news items as media picks up on rising accident statistics. New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, is targeting bicycle riders who talk and text while riding through streets and byways. Part of the New York City Vision Zero program being discussed in the city council, measures are being taken to explore ways and means of reducing pedestrian accidents involving mobility.
The mayor already passed legislation reducing speed limits on streets from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. While traffic fatalities have fallen from 2000 to 2011, there has been increases in minor accidents in the past three years. Some are faulting use of the iPhone 4s and 5, and some of the larger screen Android phones. Only a few of these accidents had fatal results and involved texting on bicycles.
Psychologists, especially neurocognitive psychologists, have been exploring human capabilities at attention span capabilities. Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. The general rule is that people can focus on doing up to 3 tasks at a time. Beyond that, people tend to perform less efficiently. Staring and moving around on mobile screens while walking and carrying devices makes it more likely to develop impaired integrity. Observations of children using mobile devices are showing evidence of dwindling attention spans as virtual replaces physical realities, even though some studies show that certain games improve coordination skills.
Holding and seek/find keys while texting as you are mobile may tax attention spans even for a moment. There are literally dozens of random movements that can occur on a busy street at any given second. Moving from virtual to physical visual consciousness requires certain motor skills and there may be some adaptation stress that mars thought response. There’s a medical condition called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR and this reprocessing difficulty can impair thinking, especially at many unanticipated stress levels. The results may lead to unintentional confusion that may lead to accidents.
New York’s Vision Zero believes that shifting senses by holding phones, touching phones, and listening to phone content (through earphones) compromise 50% or more of our sensory information channels. That is why many cities and States have made holding phones and driving illegal. Many car devices allow hands-free speaking and texting using Bluetooth car dock mounts.
Few walkers and bicycle riders use their Bluetooth phone features. They hold and use their devices while active. There are Bluetooth bicycle mounts and Bluetooth headsets available. General recommendations in using headsets are those that use one ear. Stereo headsets and plugs can drown out important street noises.
For all the beneficial uses that smartphones deliver, the consequences often derive from human inabilities to focus on more than a couple things simultaneously. New Bluetooth wearables and accessories may help reduce accidents. Until such time that people realize the complex limits of the motion we take for granted, talking, using, and texting on bicycles will require enforced legislation that punish scofflaws.
It is unfortunate that legislators have to punish the few to make places more livable and safe for many. The old behaviorist tactic of negative reinforcement through tough laws that seem unfair. There must be curbs on mobile users in motion. Sadly, when it comes to the deplorable behaviors and consequences of texting on bicycles in motion, a slap on the wrist may not suffice. Negative reinforcement strengthens a behavioral response by taking away a negative outcome and reducing accidents in a mobile digital world will need the same penalties that motored vehicles are subjected. Distracted driving can harm and kill others and texting on bicycles must be dishabituated among any operator of a moving vehicle.