The true health risk of handsets

05 Oct 2011

An insurance company study revealing people are now so addicted to smartphones and other gadgets they cross highways without checking for traffic caught my eye last week.

You see, I used to commute on a motorcycle and have long since lost count of the number of near misses I’ve had with dozy pedestrians crossing the road while engrossed in some other activity. That experience is enough to convince me that the phenomenon found in the study by LV Insurance is far from new.

I began commuting since 2000 and one of the first things I noticed was the number of people who would cross the road while not looking. Smartphones were in their infancy back then, but ownership of regular mobile phones was exploding and you often came across someone texting while stepping off the pavement.

However, the more common culprits were books and newspapers. I know the fascination with ‘just getting to the end of this chapter’ while reading, but I’ve never yet found a book so engrossing that I’d risk my life to get to that finale. Today, the study shows, consumers will even check e-mail while in the middle of the road.

The devices have changed, but the mentality has not.

I often wear a t-shirt that proclaims “loud pipes save lives,” which refers to fitting race exhaust parts to a regular road machine. As those ‘pipes’ are typically louder than the original equipment, they tend to get you noticed a bit more when on the road.

The LV research has done little to sway my view that the t-shirt speaks the truth. On any bike I’ve ridden with a ‘loud pipe’, no-one has walked across my path unaware of my presence. In contrast, I’ve had many near misses while on bikes with standard kit fitted.

However, reports from Australia suggest even motorcycle paramedics are struggling to get noticed, and they’ve got sirens and flashing lights.

Nevertheless, the next time I ride through London, I’ll stick with being the loudest, brightest thing out there because it seems there’s nothing like a yellow sports bike sounding like it’s approaching at 90mph to yank a pedestrian’s attention away from their electronics and back to the age-old art of self-preservation.

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