It's Green! Stop Texting While Crossing

Pedestrians texting while crossing the street at higher risk for unsafe behaviors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Remember when you learned in school to look both ways before crossing the street? Here's another tip: put away your cell phone and pay attention to the crosswalk too.

A recent study found that almost a third of pedestrians crossing the street were using their cell phones for some activity while crossing.

The ones who were texting were the most likely to ignore crosswalks and lights and to not look both ways. Texters also took more time to cross the street than undistracted pedestrians.

About half these observations occurred during the busy morning rush hour with more traffic on the road. The researchers expressed concern that these distractions increase unsafe pedestrian behavior.

"Avoid distractions when crossing the street."

The study, led by Leah L. Thompson, of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, looked at the effects of being distracted by tech devices while crossing the street.

The researchers chose 20 high-risk traffic intersections to observe during one of three randomly chosen windows of time in 2012. About half the observations were done between 8 and 9 am.

They observed 1,102 pedestrians total, noting age, gender, behavior and use of a mobile device. A little over half the pedestrians observed were between 25 and 44 years old.

Overall, 94 percent of the observed pedestrians crossed at the crosswalk and 80 percent followed the lights. But only a quarter of the pedestrians showed safe behavior by crossing at the crosswalk with the light and looking both ways first.

Almost a third of the pedestrians observed – 30 percent – were engaged in some kind of distracting activity with their mobile devices.

More than one in ten of them (11 percent) were listening to music while 7 percent were texting and 6 percent were talking on the phone.

The pedestrians who were texting, talking on the phone or talking to a person they were walking with took longer to cross the intersection.

Texters, for example, took almost two extra seconds to cross three to four lanes compared to undistracted pedestrians. But the music listeners actually crossed a half second faster than the others.

More importantly, text-messaging pedestrians were four times more likely to show at least one unsafe crossing behavior, such as crossing against the light, crossing between intersections (no light or crosswalk) or not looking both ways before crossing.

Meanwhile, those distracted by children or a pet were nearly three times more likely to cross without looking both directions first.

Because past research has shown that pedestrians' behavior may be responsible for up to 15 percent of pedestrian deaths, the researchers expressed concern about the level of distraction shown, especially by those text messaging in particular.

"Pedestrian distraction in general, and text messaging in particular, is associated with slower crossing times and unsafe pedestrian behaviors," the authors wrote. "The steady rise in the prevalence of text messaging and the use of mobile devices for a wide range of functions such as playing games suggests that the risk of distraction will increase."

The study was published December 12 in the BMJ journal Injury Prevention. The research did not use external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 12, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013