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On a busy commercial street in Tokyo, Mr A, while about to climb the steps to a train station, staggered as he was struck from behind. He turns and sees a youth, who appears to be a student, who had been so wrapped up in his smartphone that he’d banged right into him from behind.

At least no bones were broken.

“He just muttered, ‘Aw, I couldn’t help it,’ and I stood there and glared at him,” Mr A relates.

By the end of 2016, according to a study by the MM Research Institute, 67.3% of the mobile phones in use will be smartphones. Which means, says Shukan Post (May 3-10), there will be that many more people perambulating while blissfully unaware of their surroundings, as they squint at and tap the screens of their personal communications devices.

Research confirms that walking while using one of these gadgets is dangerous, Takahiro Higuchi, associate professor of cognitive science at Tokyo Metropolitan University, tells the magazine.

“While their attention is focused on the screen, they disregard other pedestrians,” he says. “More than in crosswalks where caution is needed, they pay even less attention on regular streets.”

Particularly at risk are seniors or the handicapped, with whom phone users frequently collide, says a Mr B, a volunteer who works with the handicapped.

“While using the phones, people’s walking speed slows and they tend to only look right in front of them,” says Toshikazu Shimazaki of the Nihon University Faculty of Engineering. “The more they focus on the display, they less attention they pay to people walking around them.”

The smartphone user thus becomes a “moving barrier,” and his victims the elderly, the handicapped and small children.

Professor Katsumi Tokuda of Tsukuba University cites a survey in which 42% of mothers with small children said they had the experience of colliding with a smartphone user.

According to Kazuhiro Kozuka, professor of media informatics at Aichi University of Technology (AUT), if a person walks with empty hands his or her view lingers on objects for less than half a second, permitting the eyes to wander about to take in the surroundings. If walking while conversing by telephone, this field of vision narrows, and the time for views to linger becomes longer.

But if walking while sending a twitter message, even if the person still looks forward, there’s hardly any peripheral vision at all.

“When you send a Twitter message via a smartphone while walking, your field of vision shrinks to one-third,” says Kozuka. “This adversely affects judgment and sense of caution, making it easier to bump into people and vehicles.”

Be as it may, Shukan Post continues, more people are at last starting to raise objections to this hazardous behavior. According to one survey via the Internet, 83% of respondents said they were in favor of a regulation banning or restricting use of smartphones while in motion.

The desk for fielding complaints from citizens in Tokyo’s Minato Ward says it has received requests from people asking for anti-phone statutes after they “collided with a phone user and got knocked down.” Reports of accidents on station platforms and steps are gradually being collated, and while the numbers are still small, indications are that broken bones and fatalities as a result of smartphone mishaps, occasionally result.

“From surveys taken around 2007, people felt it was a problem that could be dealt with simply by encouraging phone users to ‘mind their manners’ and ‘show consideration for others,’” says the aforementioned Tokuda. “But since then,  the number of smartphones has increased exponentially and the problem has only grown worse.

“Just as regulations were put into place to deal with smokers on the street, if people can’t control themselves with phones, then isn’t it going to be necessary to make laws? Even just by raising it to the level of debate, this will hopefully send a wake-up message to phone users,” Tokuda says.

One possible solution might be to convince telephone manufacturers to build in functions to prevent phone use while in motion.

“The time is fast approaching when the manufacturers will have to seriously take up measures to deal with this ‘aruki-sumaho,’” AUT’s Kozuka remarks. “And some moves in this direction have already begun, of their own volition.”

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