People texting more likely to have ‘near miss’ with a vehicle

Author: Louise Prime

Pedestrians texting on their smartphones were more likely to have a ‘near miss’ with a vehicle and to fail to look left and right before crossing the road, compared with people who were listening to music or talking on their phones, a new analysis* published in Injury Prevention has shown.

The research team behind the study pointed out that increasing numbers of people use their phones while walking and crossing the street, and observations in cities around the world indicate that pedestrian distraction from mobile phones is an immediate and common problem; however, they said, although more than 50 experimental and observational studies have investigated the effect of distractions on pedestrian walking and street crossing behaviour, “the literature on this issue is mixed”.

They conducted a research synthesis and meta-analysis of 33 relevant, suitable studies to determine the extent to which mobile phone conversation, text messaging or browsing, and listening to music affect a number of common pedestrian behavioural measures. These were: initiation duration (time taken to start walking or begin crossing), missed opportunities (the number of safe crossing opportunities that the pedestrian could have taken but chose not to take), crossing duration, looking left and right, and hits and close calls (collisions and near misses between pedestrians and vehicles). Their analysis showed that:

  • Both talking on a mobile phone and texting or browsing were associated with small and moderate increases in initiation duration, respectively. However, listening to music was not associated with a significant change in initiation duration.
  • Talking on a mobile phone was associated with slightly more missed safe-crossing opportunities, but texting or browsing did not have a statistically significant or generalisable effect, nor did listening to music.
  • None of the mobile phone tasks were associated with a statistically significant change in crossing duration.
  • Texting or browsing significantly reduced participants’ looks to the left and right before and/or during crossing, but talking on a mobile phone and listening to music did not.
  • Talking on a mobile phone was associated with a small increase in rates of hits and close calls, and texting or browsing was associated with a moderate increase in rates of hits and close calls. Listening to music did not have a statistically significant or generalisable effect.

The study authors summarised: “Both mobile phone conversation and text messaging increased rates of hits and close calls. Texting decreased rates of looking left and right prior to and/or during street crossing. As might be expected, text messaging was generally found to have the most detrimental effect on multiple behavioural measures.”

They noted that policy, engineering and environmental suggestions ’abound’ for prevention and mitigation of distracted walking, but both signs and a public awareness intervention have been found to be ineffective at changing distracted pedestrian behaviour. They called for evaluation of interventions that promise to change behaviour over time – such as vehicle speed reduction at crossings with additional infrastructure protection – and for future research to include, for example, pedestrian hazard detection and response measures to safety-critical stimuli or events such as vehicles failing to obey stop signs or other pedestrians disobeying crossing signals.

*Simmons SM, Caird JK, Ta A, et al. Plight of the distracted pedestrian: a research synthesis and meta-analysis of mobile phone use on crossing behaviour. Inj Prev. Epub ahead of print: 3 February 2020. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2019-04342.