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Are Distracted Pedestrians A Potential Crosswalk Hazard?

June 13, 2011

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Alan Brown of Inside Science News interviewed several researchers investigating the dangers of cell phone use and other distractions on pedestrians. Talking, browsing, texting -- even listening to music -- could lead to pedestrian accidents with motor vehicles.

Next time you're about to cross a street, you might want to think twice about texting -- and definitely take those buds out of your ears. Music may be even more dangerous than texting, according to one researcher.

The labs create virtual reality scenarios similar to those used to study driver behavior. Drivers and walkers, it turns out, are often distracted by the same things -- but not always.

One researcher found that more than 1,000 pedestrians had cellphone-related falls, collisions, and other accidents that sent them to the emergency room.

"We're trying to understand what questions an adult would ask when deciding to cross a road or not," said Tal Oron-Gilad, a professor of human factors engineering who runs a pedestrian lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

To understand how texting or talking affect behavior, it's essential to know how people act when they are not distracted, she added. Oron-Gilad outfitted children and adults with headsets that track eye movement.

She found that adults and older children first look where they are going, then look left and right. Younger children look straight ahead and rarely to the side.