The dangers of distracted walkers

Watch out for those texting pedestrians:

Distracted walking is most common among millennials aged 18 to 34, but women 55 and older are most likely to suffer serious injuries, including broken bones, according to a 2013 study in Accident Analysis & Prevention. Visits to emergency rooms for injuries involving distracted pedestrians on cellphones more than doubled between 2004 and 2010 and continues to grow. Among more than 1,000 people hospitalized after texting while walking, injuries included a shattered pelvis and injuries to the back, head and neck.

According to the National Safety Council, “the rise in cellphone-distracted walking injuries parallels the eightfold increase in cellphone use in the last 15 years.” Although the council found that 52 percent of distracted walking episodes occurred at home, the nationwide uptick in pedestrian deaths resulting from texting while walking has prompted the federal government to offer grants of $2 million to cities to combat distracted walking…

Alas, most people seem to think the problem involves other people. They’re not the ones who walk distracted. A new survey of some 6,000 people released last week by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, found that while 74 percent said that “other people” were usually or always walking while distracted, only 29 percent said the same about themselves. And only 46 percent considered the behavior “dangerous.”

I don’t do this much myself for two reasons. First, it slows my walking speed down. I’d rather get to my destination quicker and then text. Second, I generally don’t like impeding pedestrian traffic, whether the issue is texting, stopping for a conversation, gawking, etc.

Maybe the best solution – hinted at in the end of the article – is to be a defensive pedestrian in the same way that you are supposed to practice defensive driving. Be alert. Look around. Be aware of pedestrians and other possible obstacles. Have an alternative action in mind should others not respond appropriately.

Perhaps we should have a talking and texting lane for those who want to engage in this?

How one woman helped make preventable injuries an American public health issue

The epidemiologist Susan P. Baker devoted her career to making preventable injuries a public health issue. Here is part of the story:

She embarked on an independent research project — a comparison of drivers who were not responsible for their fatal crashes with drivers who were — and in 1968 she sent Haddon a letter seeking federal financing for her study. He came through with $10,000 and continued to finance her research after he became president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety a year later…

Among Baker’s most important legacies is the widespread use of the infant car seat. By examining data from car crashes, she demonstrated that the passengers most likely to die were those younger than 6 months. They were killed at double the rate of 1-year-olds and triple the rate for ages 6 to 12. Why? Because babies rested in their mothers’ arms or laps, often in the front passenger seat, and because their still-fragile bodies were more susceptible to fatal injury than those of older children. Baker published her study in the journal Pediatrics in 1979, making headlines in newspapers across the country…

Around that time, Baker was one of the main authors of a report calling for the creation of a federal injury-prevention agency. Today the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control coordinates with state programs and underwrites research projects aimed at preventing injury, ranging from the intentional (rape, homicide, suicide) to the unintentional (falls, residential fires, drownings)…

Of course, Baker knows that we can’t make the world completely injury-proof. But her decades of research show how fairly simple preventive measures — fences around swimming pools, bike helmets, childproof caps on medicine containers — can save thousands of lives.

I couldn’t help thinking while reading this story that it demonstrates the interplay between science, culture, and government. The first paragraph of the article argues that in the 1960s that few people worried about preventable injuries but this has clearly changed since. Aiding this process was new scientific findings about injuries as well as presentable statistics that captured people’s attention. This reminds me of sociologist Joel Best’s explanation in Damned Lies and Statistics that the use of statistics emerged in the mid 1800s because reformers wanted to attach numbers and science to social problems they cared about. But for these numbers to matter and the science to be taken seriously, you need a culture as well as institutions that see science as a viable way of knowing about the world. Similarly, the numbers themselves are not enough to immediately lead to change; social problems such as automobile deaths go through a process by which the public becomes aware, a critical mass starts pressing the issue, and leaders respond by changing regulations. Is it a coincidence that these concerns about public health began to emerge in the 1960s at the same time of American ascendency in the scientific realm, the growth of the welfare state, the continued development of the mass media as well as mass consumption, and an era of more movements calling for human rights and governmental protections? Probably not.

h/t Instapundit

Risk of flying in different countries

A new study suggests flying is more dangerous in the developing world compared to the Western, industrialized world:

Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and a researcher on aviation safety, calculated that the odds of dying on a scheduled flight in first world countries such as Canada and Japan are one in 14 million.

But he found that flying in emerging nations such as India and Brazil leads to a one in 2 million chance of death per flight. Lesser developed countries, such as many found in Africa and in Latin America, were found to have a crash rate of one in 800,000.

Overall, Barnett says the data suggests airplane safety around the world is improving. Still, these figures could be frightening to some.

Barnett argues this issues in developing countries might be brought on “individualism and deference to authority.” I recall reading something similar recently that said there were more crashes and issues in an Asian country (perhaps South Korea?) because subordinates (anyone on the plane lower than the pilot) felt they could not challenge the pilot’s authority and therefore would not bring up possible problems if they saw them.

But these figures still obscure the fact that flying in an airplane is relatively safer than a number of other, more frequent activities. Check out this graph from the National Safety Council to see the odds of other activities.