Distracted walkers increasing potential for crashes: B.C. study

A study conducted in Kamloops, B.C. found that one in three pedestrians monitored by video were distracted by their phones while crossing the street.  Researchers used cameras to watch a busy four-way intersection in the Interior city, and took notes on 357 pedestrians over two days.

The group is looking at how accidents occur on roads by modelling behaviour of pedestrians and drivers in hopes that the data can be used to design smarter autonomous vehicles.  “We found that more than a third of pedestrians were distracted by their cellphones, texting and reading or talking and listening,” said the lead author of the study published in the Transportation Research Record.

Rushdi Alsaleh, a PhD candidate in civil engineering at the University of British Columbia, said researchers noted the effects cellphones had on those walking by.  “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,” Alsaleh said in a statement from UBC.

Researchers also saw that pedestrians texting or reading took shorter steps, slowed down and had “unstable movements” and disruptions as they walked.  Those who were in the middle of phone calls took slower steps, but didn’t change their stride, the report said.

And when it came to interactions with vehicles, unsurprisingly those using their phone acted differently than those who were not. People who were not distracted adjusted their speed and the length of their steps when trying to avoid oncoming cars, but those on their phones only slowed their steps, study co-author and UBC research associate Mohamed Zaki said.

The group said the findings of the study can be applied to the programming of driverless vehicles. If autonomous cars are able to recognize a distracted pedestrian from their walking patterns, they can anticipate the person’s behaviour and adjust accordingly to avoid an accident.

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