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Distracted walking: Could mobile phone use affect a person’s likelihood of slipping/tripping and falling?

3/19/2015

By Dr. Samuel Howart

As a society, we have become increasingly aware of the potentially devastating consequences of mobile phone use while driving. Talking or texting on your mobile phone can present a mentally distracting secondary task to the primary task of driving.

Recent scientific biomechanics studies have looked into the potentiality that using a mobile phone could alter a person’s walking patterns, and ultimately increase their chances of experiencing a slip/trip and fall. In fact, mobile phone use is often cited as the reason people walk into things around them, fall down stairs, fall off treadmills, and trip over objects. The problem has become so common in London, England that padding was temporarily added to lampposts (as part of a marketing ploy) to minimize the impact when a person walks into one.

What do we know based on current scientific evidence? When using a mobile phone while walking:

  1. People tend to walk slower;
  2. Their strides are shorter, wider, and their cadence (number of steps per minute) is also reduced;
  3. They demonstrate greater deviation from the intended walking path; and,
  4. Coordination of movements between the head and trunk as well as between the pelvis and trunk is altered.

Given that the advent of advanced mobile phones has only been recent, there is still much to be learned about how using these devices influence a person’s ability to navigate through the world around them. For example, how does mobile phone use influence toe clearance, a critical factor in determining tripping potential, while walking on level ground, walking up/down stairs, or stepping over/onto an obstacle? Does a person’s reaction to a slip/trip change if they are using a mobile phone while walking? As new scientific evidence emerges, we will gain a better understanding of the potential implications that mobile phone use could have on slip/trip and fall cases.

What to do next? For slip/trip and fall claims, an expert in biomechanics can assess the impact that contributory factors such as mobile phone use could have had on the incident’s likelihood. Appropriately qualified biomechanical experts have specific knowledge of how the body moves, and responds to balance disturbances such as slips or trips. These individuals can also address the mechanisms and thresholds for injuries as they relate to particular incidents.

Dr. Samuel Howarth is a biomechanics expert for Pario Engineering and Environmental Science. He uses the latest knowledge in biomechanics to assess human dynamics, injury mechanisms, and injury thresholds for injuries resulting from sporting activities, occupational activities, motor vehicle accidents, and slip/trip and fall incidents. Pario is also able to conduct lab-based biomechanical testing for specific claims.

For more information, or to arrange for a presentation or demonstration please contact Dr. Samuel Howarth (T: 289 795-3655, E: samuel.howarth@pariosciences.ca).


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