Researchers Say Distracted Walking Is On The Rise For Pedestrians With Smartphones

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows that smartphone use can be just as dangerous for pedestrians as it is for drivers, reports Science Daily.

UBC engineers analyzed the movements and walking patterns of pedestrians using smartphones to determine how mobile use affects the average person while walking. The findings could possibly be used in the future to develop safer roads and autonomous vehicles. The study was recently published in the Transportation Research Record.

Researchers used automated video analysis in order to examine the walking behavior and movements of pedestrians while at a busy four-way intersection located in Kamloops, B.C. Three cameras were mounted at the intersection for the purposes of the two-day study to allow researchers to capture and analyze the movements of 357 pedestrians.

Lead author Rushdi Alsaleh is a PhD candidate pursuing his civil engineering degree at UBC.

“We found that more than a third of pedestrians were distracted by their cellphones, texting and reading or talking and listening. Distracted pedestrians had more trouble maintaining their walking speed and gait and took longer to cross the road, increasing the potential for conflict with vehicles.”

The study also found that distracted pedestrian movements differed depending on what they were doing on their smartphone. According to the article, pedestrians who were texting or reading took shorter steps but did not slow their average step frequency. Pedestrians talking on their smartphones took slower steps, but did not change the length of their stride.

Additionally, researchers determined that pedestrians who were distracted by texting or reading were found to have a higher rate of unstable movements and disruptions while walking as compared to pedestrians who were talking on their smartphones.

Study co-author Mohamed Zaki, a UBC research associate in the department of civil engineering, explained how the movements of smartphone-distracted pedestrians differed from pedestrians without visible smartphones.

“When it came to interactions with vehicles, distracted pedestrians acted differently than those who were not distracted. To avoid oncoming vehicles, they reduced their speeds by adjusting their step frequency, while non-distracted pedestrians adjusted both their step frequency and the length of their steps.”

According to researchers, the findings should be used as key considerations in the development and safety of self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles that are able to recognize the walking patterns of distracted pedestrians and anticipate their behavior would be able to avoid an accident by taking evasive actions, the article notes.