Texting compromises pedestrian safety

Higher rate of near misses and collisions
  • Deborah Condon

The dangers of walking while texting on a smartphone have been highlighted in a new review.

According to the findings, texting compromises pedestrian safety more than talking on a phone or listening to music.

Globally, around 270,000 pedestrians die every year, accounting for one in five road traffic deaths. Increasingly, pedestrian distraction has been recognised as a safety issue, due to the growing number of people walking around with handheld devices.

Canadian researchers decided to look into the potential impact on road safety of handheld and hands-free devices. They carried out a review of all the published evidence in this area and identified 33 relevant studies.

They pooled the data from 14 of these studies, which involved almost 900 people, and reviewed the data from another eight observational studies as well.

The researchers looked at a number of things, such as time taken to cross a road, looking left and right before and during crossing, and close calls with vehicles or other pedestrians.

The review found that listening to music was not linked with any increased risk of potentially harmful pedestrian behaviours.

Talking on the phone was linked with a small increase in the time taken to start crossing a road. Those talking on a phone also had slightly more missed opportunities to cross a road safely.

However, texting while walking was found to be the most potentially dangerous behaviour. Those who texted while walking were much less likely to look left and right before and/or while crossing the road.

They also recorded higher rates of 'near misses' and collisions with other pedestrians and vehicles.

Those texting also took longer to cross a road and had more missed opportunities to cross safely, although to a lesser extent than the other findings.

The researchers from the University of Calgary acknowledged that many of the studies had quality issues, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. However, they insisted that their findings are relevant given the widespread use of smartphones today.

"Given the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, apps, digital video and streaming music, which has infiltrated most aspects of daily life, distracted walking and street crossing will be a road safety issue for the foreseeable future," they said.

They added that as public awareness campaigns do not appear to work, "establishing the relationship between distracted walking behaviour and crash risk is an essential research need".

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Injury Prevention.


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