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How do cell phones affect pedestrian and bicyclist behavior?

Although there has been extensive research examining the effect of cell phone use on automobile drivers, much less is known about how cell phone use affects pedestrian and bicyclist behavior. To date, studies have found that drivers using cell phones tend to be more distracted and less aware of their surroundings than drivers who are not using a cell phone. This distractedness can lead to increased reaction and braking times and increased incidences of collision (2).

Though the amount of research on pedestrian and bicyclist cell phone use is limited, the studies thus far have had similar findings. Several recent studies indicate that, similar to automobile drivers, pedestrians talking on a cell phone exhibited decreased awareness of their surroundings and increased levels of unsafe behavior when using cell phones. One study found that college-aged students talking on a cell phone were less likely to remember objects along a particular route than students who were not engaged in a phone conversation (4). Several studies have indicated that cell phone users take more risks when crossing the street (1, 3, 4). While most studies have focused on adult and college-aged populations, one recent study looked at the effect of cell phone use among preadolescent children, a group in which cell phone use is increasing. This study shows that pre-adolescent children are more likely to experience pedestrian collisions in a simulated road-crossing setting while talking on a cell phone (5).

Until further research is conducted, our understanding of the full effects of cell phone use on pedestrians, bicyclists, and other forms of non-motorized travel will remain incomplete. However, findings from this initial research indicate that pedestrians and bicyclists should refrain from using cell phones in high traffic areas, at street crossings, or other situations that require full attention. Because they are still learning how to behave safely around traffic, children should avoid using cell phones near busy streets or intersections and while riding a bicycle.

References:

(1) Bungum, T.J. (2005). The association of distraction and caution displayed by pedestrians at a lighted crosswalk. Journal of Community Health, 30(4), 269-279.

(2) Caird, J.K., Willness, C.R., Steel, P. & Scialfa, C. (2008). A meta-analysis of the effects of cell phones on driver performance. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 40, 1282-1293.

(3) Hatfield, J. and S. Murphy. (2007). The effects of mobile phone use on pedestrian crossing behaviour at signalised and unsignalised intersections. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 39(1), 197-205.

(4) Nasar, J., Hecht, P., & Wener, R. (2008). Mobile telephones, distracted attention, and pedestrian safety. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 40, 69-75.

(5) Stavrinos, D., Byington K.W., & Schwebel, D.C. (2009). Effect of cell phone distraction on pediatric pedestrian injury risk. Pediatrics, 123(3), 179-185.