Accidents related to risky phone use rises

A woman uses a smartphone while walking in the Ginza district of Tokyo.

TOKYO - Using smartphones while walking or cycling can be dangerous, with the number of smartphone-related accidents on the rise.

According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo Fire Department, 36 people were taken by ambulances to hospitals in Tokyo last year due to accidents that occurred when people were using smartphones or cell phones while walking or riding a bicycle, including pedestrians who were victims of collisions. Of the 36, one person died.

The number was about 1.5 times as many as the 23 accidents recorded in 2010. The fire department believes widespread use of smartphones is the main cause of the increase in the number of these accidents.

However, as in many cases the cause of accidents is unknown when injured people are taken to the hospital, the fire department believes the survey results are just the tip of the iceberg.

Using records of the past four years of people taken to the hospital, the fire department for the first time checked accidents related to people using smartphones or cell phones. The number of people injured in those accidents rose to 29 in 2011 and 34 in 2012.

In October last year, a 47-year-old man was killed when he was hit by a train after stepping into a railroad crossing in Itabashi Ward while his eyes were glued to his cell phone screen.

Last year, 24 people, or two-thirds of the total, were staring at the screens of their smartphones or cell phones when they were involved in an accident. Five people said they were talking on their mobile devices, while three people said they were taking a call. Of the 36 people who were taken to hospitals last year, seven people were involved in accidents while using a phone and riding a bicycle.

In May last year, a fifth-grade primary schoolboy broke his jaw after he fell off the platform at JR Yotsuya Station in Shinjuku Ward when his attention was reportedly diverted by his cell phone.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry's survey found that 19 people were injured after they fell off station platforms while using smartphones or cell phones during the 12-month period through March 2013. Railway companies have warned people not to use those mobile devices while walking on platforms.

Also, pedestrians were often victims of accidents caused by people using smartphones or cell phones.

In May last year, an 82-year-old woman broke her leg after a person looking at a smartphone screen collided with her while walking in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo. In April 2011, a 69-year-old man sustained a head injury after he was hit by a bicycle ridden by a person using a cell phone.

"People easily become riveted to smartphone screens because they display a lot of information," a Tokyo Fire Department official said. "This increases the possibility of accidents because their vision narrows."

Meanwhile, the National Police Agency said the number of traffic accidents caused by drivers using smartphones or cell phones has been increasing, with a total of 1,750 accidents, including 34 fatalities, occurring nationwide last year.

In response to the growing number of smartphone-related accidents, cell phone companies have taken some measures.

In December, NTT Docomo, Inc. began distributing a free app that displays a warning on smartphone screens if the app judges a user is walking while using a smartphone from the motion of the device and other elements.

KDDI Corp., the operator of au mobile phone services, holds cell phone classes to teach primary, middle and high school students the dangers of using smartphones while walking.