Did you see the unicycling clown?

Published 8:19 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The current water temperature in Lake Michigan near the town of St. Joseph, Mich., is 33 degrees. On Monday, that’s where a woman walking with her husband and 15-year-old son fell off a pier into the frigid depths. Hypothermia was her reward for texting while walking.

Another woman rather famously fell into a mall fountain while texting. The watery tumble was caught on video that, much to her embarrassment, went viral on the Internet.

These types of accidents back up figures supplied by the 2010 study “Do You See the Unicycling Clown? Inattentional Blindness While Walking and Talking on a Cell Phone” by researchers at Western Washington University. For the study, observers monitored subjects in four groups: those who walked singly, those with a friend, those listening to an MP3 and those chatting on a cellphone. It comes as no surprise that the ones talking on the cellphone were least likely to see the cyclist that passed them. Only eight percent noticed the unicycling clown with a big, red nose and a purple, polka-dot costume at all. Take that statistic, apply it to someone walking with his or her head down, eyes focused on the screen texting, and you can imagine the results.

Texting at any time, while doing anything else, even something as benign as walking, can be a dangerous distraction. That’s why it’s illegal in North Carolina to text and drive. That might come as a surprise to those of us who’ve had our N.C. driver’s licenses a lot longer than our cellphones. But it’s the law and worth a $100 fine. While the law has proven somewhat difficult for patrol officers to enforce, inevitability has become the crime’s enforcer. Accidents happen, but accidents really happen when texting.