Tokyo commuters asked not to walk and text

A Japan Rail East customer stands on the yellow safety line while staring down at her smartphone on a train platform at Sakuragicho Station in Yokohama on Tuesday. An increase in people falling off train platforms and bumping into each other at train stations recently led the rail company to begin a campaign asking people to quit staring at their phones while walking. Military policies on using cell phones while walking in uniform vary among the services.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — An increase of downwardly staring people crashing into each other — and occasionally falling off train platforms — while texting has led the largest railway in the Tokyo region to ask commuters to put away their smartphones while walking.

Japan Rail East, whose rail lines pass near multiple U.S. military bases, began a seven-week campaign in its stations last weekend with 1,000 posters saying, “No mobile phones and games while walking.”

They are also making announcements in stations and on trains that it is dangerous to use mobile electronics while walking, a Japan Rail East spokesman told Stars and Stripes on Monday.

The company had many passengers complaining about how much they were getting bumped into by people texting, playing games and watching videos, the spokesman added.

In May, a fifth-grade boy suffered minor injuries when he fell from a platform while staring at his smartphone, broadcaster NHK reported.

There were at least 18 people who fell from station platforms in fiscal year 2011 while using cellphones, according to the latest data available from Japan’s national transportation ministry.

Meanwhile, a recent Tsukuba University study found more than over 60 percent of 650 students surveyed last month have either bumped into or almost bumped into someone using a phone. About 4 percent suffered injuries.

Although the military in Japan doesn’t regulate how servicemembers use their cellphones while off duty, each service has guidelines on walking and using cell phones in uniform.

The Navy allows cellphone use while walking, though it bans hands-free devices for casual use and allows local commanders to pass additional restrictions.

The Air Force keeps use of communications devices while walking “limited to emergencies or when official notifications are necessary,” according to a 2011 regulation.

The Marine Corps and Army prohibit use while walking entirely. A 2012 Army regulation at Fort Hood, Texas, lists walking while using a cellphone as a potential court-martial offense for failure to obey an order.

Japan isn’t the only country dealing with smartphone-related mishaps. A study by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company released Monday reported that 26 percent of pedestrians in the United States said they text or send emails while crossing streets.

About 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. in 2011 for injuries suffered while walking and using a phone or electronic device, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission data obtained by The Associated Press.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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