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Distracted walking a growing hazard

Distracted walking a growing hazard

Study finds one in three pedestrians are distracted while crossing the street

December 17th, 2012 by Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs in News

States have cracked down on distracted driving, particularly people who send and receive text messages behind the wheel. But a new study suggests authorities may need to take a look at distracted walking.

An observational study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that nearly one in three pedestrians is distracted by their mobile phone or other electronic device while crossing busy intersections. Texting was judged most distracting but other non-electronic distractions were also noted.

The study was based on more than 1,000 pedestrian crossings at 20 business intersections in Seattle last summer. The intersections were monitored at different times during the day.

Children and pets also a distraction

The observers watched as pedestrians talked on their phones, sent and received texts or listened to music. They also observed pedestrians being distracted by conversations with other pedestrians and dealing with children or pets.

Nearly half of the observations were made in the morning rush-hour between 8 and 9 am, and just over half of those observed were between the ages of 25 and 44. Of the pedestrians monitored, about 80 percent were alone and obeyed the traffic signals, crossing at the designated point. But only 25 percent followed the full safety routine, including looking both ways before crossing.

What most concerned the researchers is nearly one in three of the 1102 pedestrians were doing something else when they crossed the road. Around one in 10 were listening to music, seven percent were texting and six percent were talking on the phone.

Taking longer to cross

And there was another concern. Those judged to be distracted took significantly longer to cross the road - 0.75 to 1.29 seconds longer. And while listening to music speeded up the time taken to cross the road, those doing it were less likely to look both ways before doing so.

Texting was judged the most risky behavior. The researchers said texters took almost two seconds longer to cross the average intersection of three to four lanes than those who weren't texting at the time.

And that's not all. Texters were also almost four times more likely to ignore lights, to cross at the middle of the street, or fail to look both ways before stepping off the curb.

Vehicle-pedestrian accidents injure 60,000 people and kill 4,000 every year in the U.S. Researchers say the casualties are likely to increase as smartphones become more widespread.

"Individuals may feel they have 'safer use' than others, view commuting as 'down time,' or have compulsive behaviors around mobile device use," write the authors.

The study suggests states should begin awareness programs about distracted walking, much like they did with drunk-driving in previous decades.