Using cell phones while walking could have worse consequences than finger fatigue.
Research shows that pedestrian injuries related to cell phone use are on the rise.
A recent study conducted by researchers connected to Ohio State University shows that pedestrian cell phone-related injuries have more than doubled since 2005. On college campuses - places that usually abound with cell phones and pedestrians - these figures can be alarming.
While the dangers of using a cell phone while driving have garnered attention over the past several years, the risks associated with distracted walking can be just as serious, says Jack Nasar, professor of city and regional planning at the Ohio State University and co-author of the study .
Nasar's study, conducted with Derek Troyer, a former graduate student at Ohio State, appeared in the August edition of Accident Analysis and Prevention. It uses emergency room data from 100 hospitals around the country maintained by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Pedestrian injuries related to cell phones ranged from falling off walkways or bridges to walking in front of moving traffic. The study found that in 2010, 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for cell-phone related incidents, as opposed to a mere 559 in 2004.
The age group most at risk for cell-phone related injuries while walking is adults under 30, Nasar says, and chiefly those between the ages of 16 and 25.
For college students, there's an awareness problem about distracted walking, Nasar says.
"Most students don't know about it."
Students walking around campus while on cell phones is anything but rare, says Miami University junior Molly Kemper, a early childhood education major.
"It's almost nonstop," she says, adding that at times fellow students have almost run into her while on their cell phones. "I don't think people necessarily see the danger in doing it while they're walking as much as they do while they're driving."
In an age of rapid communication and instant gratification from technology, can students be convinced to put their phones away as they walk?
With time, says Nasar.
"If the message gets out eventually to enough people that this is unsafe ... it's possible that things can change," he says. Campus campaigns to alert students of the dangers of walking and talking or texting could be a good first step, he adds.
Last fall, Johns Hopkins University launched its Road Scholars initiative to encourage pedestrian and bicycle safety, after several pedestrian accidents.
At the University of North Carolina, the pedestrian safety awareness "Yield to Heels" program began in 2001, before cell phones were an issue.
Now, UNC is working to implement the Watch for Me NC campaign. The campaign is an effort to promote safe driving, biking and walking in North Carolina's Triangle area, which encompasses, UNC, Duke University and North Carolina State University.
One issue to be addressed with the implementation of the program at UNC is pedestrian cell phone use, says Caroline Dickson, senior manager of communications, education and outreach at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.
"It's a huge culture change, but it's something that ... we can convince [students] to be aware of," she says.
For now, if that email, text or call absolutely can't wait, take a minute, step to the side of the sidewalk, send what you need to send, and then put your phone away, says James Gallagher, communications manager for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, at the UNC Highway Safety and Research Center.
"We encourage people to be as aware as possible when walking," he says. "Any distraction of any kind ... can lead to issues."
When the need to be connected 24/7 interferes with student safety, the tweet, status update, email, text or call can wait, Kemper says.
"Everything doesn't have to be right away," she says. "It can wait."
Jennifer Smola, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent