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Road Safety & Pedestrian distractions while walking in traffic

Background information:

Road Safety authorities often create awareness of the dangers of distractions to drivers and neglect to focus on the distractions facing pedestrians as well. We are now finding more and more accidents as a result of pedestrian inattentiveness. These are not merely resulting from pedestrians who weren't paying attention as they climbed up or down stairs, but also from motor vehicle crashes!

Most such crashes occur when the pedestrian crosses the street and many seem to result from pedestrian inattentiveness. Thus, when pedestrians are using mobile phones, distracted attention may increase their risk of accidents. We find a lot of people text messaging, on the phone, looking down or listening to music on their i-pods.

Many current road engineering technologies are focused on helping make pedestrians more aware of their surroundings. Having an understanding of how distractions affect pedestrian intersection interactions is important in evaluating such technologies. We will focus on these dangers to provide safety advice for our pedestrians.

The Dilemma of Accidents involving inattentive pedestrians:

It has been projected that there would be an approximate five-fold increase in the number of cellular phones worldwide between die years 2000 and 2011. The boom in the sales of personal mobile electronic devices (PMEDs) offers an additional source of potential distraction for pedestrians who multitask while walking to their destination.

For pedestrians most of the information at a crosswalk is obtained visually by watching traffic, seeing the markings and signage and observing the signs that indicate when it is safe to walk. Pedestrians who attempt to multitask while talking on a cell phone have a reduced cognitive capacity to devote to potentially dangerous activities such as crossing streets. The rise in use of personal electronics may be the main ingredient in a recipe for disaster especially around schools, campuses etc

Accident data confirming this dilemma is hard to find as the records usually only describe death or injury from "pedestrian distraction". Many accident victims also refuse to admit that they were distracted when they got into the accident.

What we do have is research studies - A team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that children who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are 43 percent more likely to be hit by a car than when their phones are turned off.

By making the choice not to engage in distractive activities while crossing the street, pedestrians can make intersections and crosswalks safer for themselves. Regardless of the safety technologies available at a given crosswalk, one clear way to reduce potential accidents due to inattention is to have both pedestrians and drivers choose not to engage in activities that may distract them.

Distractions to pedestrians walking in traffic:

An assumption by road engineers is that pedestrians will allocate appropriate attention to their surroundings, thus allowing these features to have a meaningful impact on their behavior. A diverse set of circumstances and activities may however result in pedestrians not allocating appropriate attention to their surroundings.

What are these distractions inhibiting situational awareness?

It is important to note that looking is not always seeing, and distraction caused by any of the above activities could result in pedestrians either failing to look or looking but failing to see. The looked-but-failed-to-see phenomenon is not new and is not limited to pedestrians.

International Research on Pedestrian Distractions:

Several research studies have been undertaken to analyze pedestrian behaviour when distracted. Some of these studies involved the following methods:

What did the researchers find about distractions and pedestrians?

Researchers, enforcement officials and transportation engineers are presented with several options to meet the continuing challenge of improving the safety of distracted pedestrians. These include educating the public about the potential dangers of being distracted while walking; enacting regulations to change pedestrians' behavior related to distracted walking; and/or implementing new engineering controls. Research conducted on the effects of mobile phone use while driving has found that educating drivers about the hazards is more easily achievable than changing their behavior.

Conclusions & Safety Advice:

It is important to note that mobile phones offer convenience and safeguards to families, including use in emergencies - but they also may pose risk. We need to balance the positives with better knowledge on how cognitive distraction from mobile phone use reduces situation awareness, increases unsafe behavior, putting pedestrians at greater risk for accidents, and crime victimization.

Current crosswalk engineering countermeasures focus on speed control as well as maintaining a separation between pedestrians and vehicles.  Examples of common infrastructure countermeasures include roundabouts, speed bumps, pedestrian refuge islands, multilane stop signs and in-pavement flashing lights. Examples of common pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow countermeasures include reduced speed limits, leading pedestrian intervals, exclusive pedestrian phases, adequate traffic signal timing and pedestrian prompting devices. These would however be of no value if our pedestrians are not attentive to these measures and the risks they are aimed at avoiding!

Advice for our pedestrians in traffic includes:

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Also View:

Texting and Driver Distractions

Avoiding distractions whilst driving

Road safety and cellular technology

Road safety near rail/level crossings

Pedestrian safety

Avoiding Pedestrians

Pedestrian Safety Manual

Running / Jogging and Road Safety

Pedestrian Safety Advice

Click to download the "Walking Safely Research Report"

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