Question of the Week

March 12, 2008


Years ago, parents would be sure to remind their teens to have "phone money" when they went out. Whatever the cost of a pay phone was, parents felt better if their kids had change in their pocket for at least one call. With pay phones becoming a rarer and rarer sight, and cell phones on the rise, many now feel safer if there is a cell phone (rather than change) in that pocket and ready to be used in case of an emergency.

Parents feel better knowing they can reach their teens--and knowing that their teens can reach them. Teens feel safer knowing that they can call someone for help if there is a problem. The problem? At what point does "feeling" safer get in the way of actually "being" safer?

"College students packing cell phones feel safer than those without and are more likely to take risky walks at night, a new study finds. The research reveals that carrying a cell phone can amp up risk-taking, particularly among women. 'Students seem to feel less vulnerable when they carry a cell phone, although there's not evidence that they really are,' said study researcher Jack Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University. 'If anything, they are probably less safe because they are paying less attention to their surroundings.'"

A cell phone is a good thing to have if there is a problem and there is a need to call for help. Having a cell phone, however, does not prevent a crime from taking place just because it is there.

When used properly a cell phone can provide safety to those who are faced with the possibility of walking alone at night--as they can call for a ride. Additionally, those who are faced with the possibility of riding with a drunk driver can call for a sober ride home.

It is when cell phones are used improperly, or when people get a false sense of security just because they know they have a phone, that they can make a situation more dangerous.

"Research amongst drivers suggests that pedestrians using mobile telephones may behave riskily while crossing the road, and casual observation suggests concerning levels of pedestrian mobile-use. An observational field survey of 270 females and 276 males was conducted to compare the safety of crossing behaviours for pedestrians using, versus not using, a mobile phone. Amongst females, pedestrians who crossed while talking on a mobile phone crossed more slowly, and were less likely to look at traffic before starting to cross, to wait for traffic to stop, or to look at traffic while crossing, compared to matched controls. For males, pedestrians who crossed while talking on a mobile phone crossed more slowly at unsignalised crossings. These effects suggest that talking on a mobile phone is associated with cognitive distraction that may undermine pedestrian safety."

It's not just drivers who can get distracted while talking on their phones, it can be dangerous for distracted pedestrians, as well--and if the driver and the pedestrian both hit that intersection at the same time, then tragedy can strike.

Teens and college students often need to walk to get from place to place. Whether crossing the street to get to class, or trying to get home after being out with friends across campus, many end up walking to get to where they need to be.

"ASHLAND, Ore -- The Ashland School Board held a meeting Monday night to discuss crosswalk safety after the death of an SOU [Southern Oregon University] student at a downtown crosswalk last month. School leaders are now worried about younger students crossing the streets. Beginning March 31st, Ashland High School band, orchestra, choir and physical education classes will be held at Lincoln Elementary while construction begins on the high school campus. This means students will be crossing Siskiyou Boulevard several times a day. 'We've got to teach our kids pedestrian safety. That means not using i-Pods or talking on their cell phones, looking both ways, all those old fashioned things,' says Ashland High School Principle Jeff Schlecht."

Whether listening to an i-Pod or the person on the other end of a cell phone call, it is more difficult to listen and pay attention to one's surroundings.

When walking at night, near traffic, or just trying to get to class, a person's safety is partially dependent upon their ability to stay safe in their surroundings.

"Use crosswalks and be careful crossing streets. Cars are required to stop when you step into the crosswalk (where there's no traffic light), but they don't always do it. Make sure they see you and don't dart into traffic. They may be required to stop, but in a confrontation with a car, you will lose.

  • "Be aware of your surroundings. Make eye contact with others. Show an awareness of those around you. ...
  • Pick walking routes that are well-lighted and well-traveled, even if they are longer. ...
  • Try to walk with a companion, especially at night. If you are uncomfortable walking alone on campus, find an emergency phone and call Public Safety.
  • Call ahead to your destination if you can and let them know your route and estimated arrival time."

Where you walk is important, as is how...

  • "Don't walk with headphones so that you can hear what is going on around you.
  • If you think that you are being followed, cross the street to see if the person does the same. Do not be afraid to start running if you need to - don't wait until the person is very close to you to do this. Go to the nearest store, restaurant, or police station.
  • Walk quickly and confidently.
  • If an unfamiliar person grabs your purse or bag, just let go. DO NOT struggle with them to try to get it back. If you fight, you risk getting hurt. Money and other belongings can be replaced - your safety is the most important thing. Run in the opposite direction of the person and go to the nearest police station or store to call for help.
  • If you are in trouble, yell! This will bring attention from the people around you."

Stuff can be replaced, even that cell phone. In case of an emergency, it is a good thing to have... Even better, it can be used to call for a ride and reduce the chance of an emergency situation even happening. That said, cell phones can cause problems when they become a distraction.

As people keep their cell phones in their pockets (they are easier to use when not in the bag that was just stolen), cell phones also need to be kept in perspective. There is only so much that even the most hi-tech phone can do to keep a person safe.

Questions of the Week:
How can a cell phone make someone "feel" safer when out, and how can a cell phone help someone to "be" safer when out? Why do you think cell phones give some people a false sense of security? How can teens use cell phones to create a safer environment for themselves? How does using a cell phone have the potential to create a more dangerous environment? What do you think your peers need to understand about the limitations of cell phones?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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