The impact of pedestrians distracted by their focus on their digital devices is the focus of the Academy’s public service television and radio campaign.


Published 4/1/2015
Mary Ann Porucznik

“Digital Deadwalkers” Take to the Air

New public service campaign expands on distracted driving

In recent years, the Academy’s public service campaigns have focused on the dangers of distracted driving. But this year, the campaign is moving in a slightly different direction to highlight the threat posed by “distracted driving’s cousin—distracted walking.”

“We know that the number of injuries to pedestrians using their phones has nearly tripled since 2004, and surveys have shown that 60 percent of pedestrians are distracted by other activities while walking,” said Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, chair of the AAOS Communications Cabinet. “Since 2009, the AAOS ‘Decide to Drive’ campaign has educated children, teens, and adults about the dangers of distracted driving. For 2015, we are expanding this message to include the dangers of distracted walking.”

In addition, the AAOS paired with the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) to develop a public service ad (PSA) on motorcycle safety; the Cervical Spine Research Society (CSRS) and the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) joined forces with the AAOS to warn consumers about the dangers of diving head-first into shallow waters.

Digital Deadwalkers
What are the consequences of pedestrians talking on the phone, texting, listening to music, engaging deeply in conversation with the person next to them, or focusing on anything or anyone other than the task of getting where they need to go?

Distracted “deadwalkers” are causing an epidemic of fractures and other orthopaedic injuries. Today, the number of pedestrians who fall down stairs, trip over curbs or other objects, or step into traffic, because they were paying more attention to their smartphones than their surroundings, is increasing each year.

A series of television and radio spots focuses on the threats that these digital deadwalkers pose to themselves and others. Each spot encourages pedestrians to engage in and with their surroundings for better bone and joint health.

In the television spots (available in 15-, 30-, and 60-second versions), a voice warns, “Today, a new creature walks among us, terrorizing innocent citizens. They prowl the streets alone and in packs causing mayhem, destruction, and injury. Until this threat can be contained, we must all be on the lookout for the digital deadwalkers. They’re not looking out for you.”

Visuals show a young mother pulling her child out of the way of an unseen, approaching figure; a group of teenagers splitting to let the unknown figure pass through; and a laborer with a pile of spilled boxes pointing a police officer in the right direction. As the officer gives pursuit, he passes a fallen bicycle rider and a window washer whose ladder has been knocked from under him. A taxi screeches to a halt, as a young man, intent on his smartphone, is finally brought up short just before crashing into an elderly couple waiting to the cross the street.

“Dude!” cries the woman, as the young man finally looks up and around him. Pointing her fingers at her eyes, and then at his, the woman demands that he “Engage!” The announcer ends the spot with “A public service safety message from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, who wants to keep everyone connected (at this point, a young women staring at her smartphone bumps into the young man, and says ‘Sorry’ without even looking up) with strong healthy bones.

The final visual points viewers to a new article on the AAOS patient education website:

The impact of pedestrians distracted by their focus on their digital devices is the focus of the Academy’s public service television and radio campaign.
The Orthopaedic Trauma Association, Cervical Spine Research Society, and American Spinal Injury Association partnered with AAOS to develop two print public service ads.

The same message is also available in 30- and 60-second radio spots.

Motorcycle safety
The AAOS/OTA public service ad on motorcycle safety is directed to motorcycle users and is also available as a poster and/or postcard. The image contrasts the beauty of a tree-lined mountain road with the carnage of a broken bike, including a forgotten boot. The headline encourages riders to “Read the road. And you won’t need as many new parts.”

According to the ad, “Motorcycle crashes don’t always involve another vehicle. Slick surfaces and road debris can lead to broken bikes, and broken bones. Ride at a speed that gives you time to react. Check our website below for more cycle safety tips.” A link to, and the AAOS/OTA logos are also shown.

“Broken bikes cause broken bones,” said Michael Suk, MD, who also noted that orthopaedic surgeons would rather “motorcycle drivers and passengers enjoy the ride without injury. Additionally, all motorcycle riders should learn how to safely operate a motorcycle and regularly practice safe driving skills.”

Diving safety
“Each summer, orthopaedic surgeons see emergency room patients who dive head first into shallow water, break their necks, and are paralyzed,” said Richard S. Siegel, MD. That’s one reason the AAOS/ASIA public service ad warns, “One shallow dive can wreck a neck. Permanently.”

A glowing sunset spotlights a young swimmer as he dives, head-first, into a mountain lake. But instead of blue waters, the lakebed is filled with jagged rocks. The copy reads: “Each year, hundreds of young people are paralyzed from neck and spine injuries caused by diving head first into shallow lakes and pools. Don’t let kids dive in—unless you know what’s below. Check our website for more diving safety tips.” A link to and the CSRS/ASIA/AAOS logos are also shown.

Nearly 26,000 individuals are treated in emergency departments, doctors’ offices, and clinics for diving-related injuries in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Approximately 800 of those injured—primarily teens and young adult males—are paralyzed due to diving in water that is too shallow.

“Their friends pull them from the water because they are unable to move their arms and legs and can’t breathe. Knowing when and how to dive safely prevents these catastrophic injuries,” said Dr. Siegel. He advises going feet-first if swimmers are uncertain of the water’s depth or if diving into water that is less than twice the swimmer’s height.

A free resource
Since 2000, the AAOS has produced multimedia public service campaigns featuring television, radio, print, and airport ads. Each ad features an important musculoskeletal health message for the public, and all are available as free downloads from the AAOS website. A limited supply of print ads (four-color posters, postcards) are available to state and specialty societies and to AAOS members in their practices or in a variety of public relations applications. For information on ordering postcards or posters for your practice, visit

Mary Ann Porucznik is managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at