Study Finds Cell Phones Distract Preadolescent Children While Crossing Streets

Cell phones are known to distract motor vehicle drivers to the point that their safety is jeopardized and an accident may occur. But what about whether cell phones might also distract child pedestrians? A study of effect of cell phone use on pediatric pedestrian injury risk suggests that cell phones distract pre-adolescent children while crossing streets. While distracted, children were less attentive to traffic; left less safe time between their crossing and the next arriving vehicle; experienced more collisions and close calls with oncoming traffic; and waited longer before beginning to cross the street.

Seventy-seven children aged 10 to 11 years old completed simulated road crossings in an immersive, interactive virtual pedestrian environment. In a within-subjects design, children crossed the virtual street 6 times while undistracted and 6 times while distracted by a cell phone conversation with an unfamiliar research assistant. Participants also completed several other experimental tasks hypothesized to predict the impact of distraction while crossing the street and talking on a cell phone.

Analyses testing experience using a cell phone and experience as a pedestrian yielded few significant results, suggesting that distraction on the cell phone might affect children’s pedestrian safety no matter what their experience level. There was some indication that younger children and children who are less attentive and more oppositional may be slightly more susceptible to distraction while talking on the cell phone than older, more attentive, and less oppositional children. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics by Despina Stavrinos, MA, Katherine W. Byington, BS and David C. Schwebel, PhD Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama. online January 26, 2009; PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 2 February 2009.

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