Why did the pedestrian cross the road? Who knows, but she really should stop texting

Study of people crossing Seattle intersections shows mobile devices are a distraction

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Researchers show texters take almost two seconds longer to cross busy intersections

Source: Looking Glass via Flickr

Nearly one in four pedestrians are engaged with a mobile device while crossing busy intersections, according to results released Wednesday of an observational survey conducted last summer.

Conducted by the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center at the University of Washington, the survey determined that texting while crossing a busy street "is the most distracting, and potentially most dangerous, activity" -- though hardly the only way pedestrians increase the odds of getting hit by a vehicle or bike by ignoring basic road-safety rules.

The researchers studied the behavior of more than 1,000 pedestrians crossing 20 different intersections during different times of the day last summer in Seattle.

Sadly, three out of four (74%) would have failed a basic road-crossing safety test requiring pedestrians to 1) wait for a green crossing signal 2) cross at the right spot and 3) look both ways before venturing into the street.

Of the 1,102 pedestrians observed, nearly 30% were engaging in a potentially distracting activity while crossing a Seattle intersection, including:

* 11% were listening to music
* 7% were texting
* 6% were talking on a mobile phone

Other distractions observed included talking with fellow pedestrians and interacting with children and pets.

Not surprisingly, distractions slowed down the time it took for pedestrians to cross intersections by anywhere from 0.75 to 1.29 seconds. And texters took nearly 2 seconds longer to cross an average three- or four-lane intersection than pedestrians who weren't texting.

It gets worse: Texters were 3.9 times more likely than non-texters to ignore at least one of the three road-crossing rules (cited above) they should have learned in kindergarten.

And there were gender differences, with researchers reporting that "female pedestrians, whether distracted or not, were somewhat less likely to look both ways before crossing the street."

The research team concludes:

Pedestrian distraction in general, and text messaging in particular, is associated with slower crossing times and unsafe pedestrian behaviours. The steady rise in the prevalence of text messaging and the use of mobile devices for a wide range of functions such as playing games suggests that the risk of distraction will increase. Solutions are likely to include the three ‘Es’ of injury prevention: education of the public about risks, engineering and environmental modifications, and enforcement.

Well, if laws against distracted road-crossing are enforced with the vigor of laws against texting or talking on a mobile phone while driving, we can strike that last solution off the list.

Now read this:

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