Surfing the web while crossing the street can lead to wipeout

By on March 5, 2013

UAB research found that college students crossing the street while surfing the Internet on a cell phone are more than twice as likely to be hit or have a close-call as students who cross the street undistracted. These findings were published online in the journal “Accident Analysis & Prevention”.

Using the internet is foolhardy when trying to cross the street MCT Campus

Using the internet is foolhardy when trying to cross the street MCT Campus

The research, co-authored by Katherine Byington, Ph.D., and David Schwebel, Ph.D., associate dean in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, also reveals that the students looked away from the street for an average of 36 seconds of every minute they waited to cross while distracted, but they looked away for less than one second with no distractions.

“Even though the participants waited longer to cross while distracted, giving them more time to decide on a safe crossing gap, the longer wait did not increase their likelihood of crossing safely,” said Byington.

The students participated in a single lab session where they crossed a virtual street environment 20 times: ten times with no distractions and ten times while completing an email-driven scavenger hunt. The hunt required accessing the Internet for answers to requests such as “Find the forecasted high temperature for Chicago tomorrow,” and “What is the current number-one song on iTunes?”

The Pew Research Center recently found that 66 percent of Americans ages 18-29 own smartphones. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCICP) and Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), 45,016 Americans, or 123 people each day of the year, were injured crossing the street in 2011. Schwebel has researched pedestrian safety in the UAB Youth Safety Lab in the Department of Psychology since 2000. He said actual injury rates in the U.S. are declining, but injuries attributed to mobile phone use are rising.

“I was surprised that the most common choice for participants to engage in distracting and risky behavior crossing the street was not due to necessity, but simply for entertainment,” Byington said.

Texting and driving is also very dangerous and it can lead to not so humours consequences. MCT Campus

Texting and driving is also very dangerous and it can lead to not so humours consequences. MCT Campus

Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., a clinical child-adolescent psychologist in the UAB Department of Psychiatry, said social issues are most salient for teens, and that making plans with peers is a top priority. She also said there is a reason these young adults continue to troll the information superhighway while they stroll across the street, even though they know this behavior is unsafe.

“Teens typically feel invincible,” said Friedman. “They are so far from death by old age that death potential is not in their awareness.”

Byington said there is an urgent need for public awareness about the risks of distracted pedestrians. In September 2012, New York City stenciled “LOOK!” in 110 crosswalks in an effort to catch the attention of mobile device users staring at their phones . In May 2011, Honolulu Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi sponsored Bill 43, which would have made it illegal to use a “mobile electronic device while crossing a street or highway,” had it passed. It would be difficult to enforce such an ordinance, much like it is difficult to enforce texting and driving bans. Even so, Byington believes formal laws would increase pedestrian awareness and reduce this dangerous behavior.

Kevin Storr
Media Specialist

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