Walking with cell phones cause dangers on UT-Austin campus

Heather Kirby

While it is common to see hundreds of students navigating UT while staring at their cell phones, this activity could potentially be dangerous, said Peter Scheets, assistant chief of operations for the UT Police Department.

Scheets said cell phones interfere with situational awareness, which is the method of staying alert and aware of surroundings to avoid danger.

“There’s been research that shows that people who are on electronic devices display the same delayed reaction as somebody that’s impaired by drugs or alcohol,” Scheets said. “From our perspective, it’s a safety issue. If you’re not aware of your surroundings, you are lowering your level of safety.”

Scheets said he has seen pedestrians fall off sidewalk curbs and twist their ankle, run into street signs and have close encounters with vehicles because they were looking at their cell phones. Students using their cell phones while walking can also be unaware of potentially dangerous situations that need to be reported, Scheets said. 

“If you’re too involved in your cell phone or your iPad or some electronic device, then you put yourself at risk,” Scheets said. “I’ve had people actually walk into the side of the patrol vehicle, because they’re not aware.”

Mathematics sophomore Jazmyn Drumgo said she hardly witnesses students looking at where they are going, and she thinks there can be serious consequences for not being alert.

“When you walk into class, you should be observant of what’s going on around you,” Drumgo said. “You should take into consideration things that have happened in the past on UT campus that required UTPD involvement.”

Pharmacy graduate student Byron Scott said he does not mind the focus students have on their cell phones, but he wishes people had more spatial awareness.

“I’m really nonchalant about it unless you’re disturbing my space,” Scott said. “They’re minding their business at the end of the day, and if you’re just doing that and not inconveniencing anybody else around you, you’re free to do that.”

Although lack of awareness from cell phones is dangerous, Scheets said it is unlikely UT would enact a policy against walking across the street on a cell phone, such as those in Honolulu and Montclair, California.

“There’s a danger of overregulating behaviors,” Scheets said. “It’s not actually helpful for society or for the relationship between police organizations and the community.”