Eyes Up: Text Message Tombstones Aim to Curb Distracted Walking


Eyes Up tombstone

Distracted driving can be deadly, which is why brands including AT&T and Toyota and government agencies have made a concerted effort in recent years to persuade drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands upon the wheel, and not their phones.

Distracted walking is another known danger, with digitally-distracted pedestrians a threat on our sidewalks and intersections—prompting a handful of US communities to now fine people caught in the act of walking and texting.

These technology addicts aren’t just a public nuisance. Ohio State University researchers found that more than 1,500 Americans ended up in the hospital from accidents related to being distracted while walking—and that was based on emergency room visits through 2010.

distracted walking accidents US chart

Last year, a University of Buffalo study found that distracted walking results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving. Another study by Stony Brook University found that people using cell phones veered off-course 61 percent more (and overshot their target 13 percent more) than when “undistracted.”

Now consider how dangerous those statistics become in a congested, high-traffic city that’s packed with pedestrians, such as New York.

A team of researchers from New Jersey’s William Paterson University recently crossed the Hudson River to study how distracted Manhattan pedestrians are these days. They were alarmed to discover that nearly half of people crossing intersections on a “Don’t Walk” signal were visibly engaging with technology, while almost 30 percent of pedestrians crossing the street on a “Walk” signal were tuned into devices—and not their surroundings.

These swipe-walkers are not just at risk of bumping into objects or other people. Last year, 144 pedestrians died in New York as a result of traffic-related accidents, and being distracted while walking was a contributor to many cases.

New Yorkers are being reminded of the grave danger that distracted walking presents with a new public messaging campaign that might trip them up as they stare down at their phones while crossing the city. In fact, the hope is that they will stumble upon these physical text messages—and take note of the message they’re conveying.

Eyes Up grave marker

Faux marble tombstones are popping up around the city, including around downtown’s busy Union Square area and the Flatiron District. They’re inscribed with text messages such as “Where r u?” and “Cya later” and “On my way,” along with the hashtag #eyesup.

In addition to the textspeak, flowers laid on each pop-up grave site serve as a none-too-subtle and grim reminder that if you’re a multitasking mobile Manhattanite, you may wind up a member of the distracted walking dead unless you start paying attention.

The public safety awareness campaign by Interbrand, in support of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, aims to remind busy New Yorkers of what can happen if they don’t pay attention while crossing busy street and dangerous intersections. While the city isn’t making text-walking an offense along with jaywalking anytime soon, De Blasio is determined to get the number of annual deaths attributed to distracted walking down to zero.

Find out more on the Eyes Up campaign’s Facebook page—and remember to keep your #eyesup while walking.