Cellphones distract kids crossing the street, says study
The study was conducted at BGU’s virtual-environment simulation laboratory, one of the world’s most sophisticated traffic-research facilities.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
Children speaking on cellphones are less likely to cross streets safely than adults, according to a study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers that was just published in the journal Safety Science.“The results showed that while all age groups’ crossing behaviors were affected by cellphone conversations, children were more susceptible to distraction,” said Prof.Tal Oron-Gilad, head of BGU’s department of industrial engineering and management.“When busy with more cognitively demanding conversation types, participants were slower to react to a crossing opportunity, chose smaller crossing gaps and allocated less visual attention to the peripheral regions of the scene.”The study was conducted at BGU’s virtual-environment simulation laboratory, one of the world’s most sophisticated traffic-research facilities, which enables researchers to measure pedestrian reactions to virtual- reality scenarios, using a pedestrian dome simulator that consists of a 180-degree spherical screen aligned with a highly accurate three-projector system large enough to immerse a participant within its circumference.The simulator experiment was conducted in a virtual city environment with 14 adults and 38 children who experienced road-crossing scenarios paired with predetermined cellphone conversations. The subjects were requested to press a response button whenever they felt it was safe to cross while the researchers tracked their eye movements.“More than a third of the road traffic deaths in low- and middle-income countries are among pedestrians. This high level of involvement is particularly meaningful for child pedestrians as the proportion of child pedestrian fatalities is significantly high relative to adults,” said Oron-Gilad.Since so many elementary- school children already have cellphones, teaching them how to cross streets and the harmful effects of speaking on phones when on them should become an integral part of their education added.“It is important to take these findings into account when aiming to train young pedestrians about road safety and increase public awareness with children going back to school,” she said.The ability to make better crossing decisions improved with age, Oron-Gilad concluded, indicating that the most prominent improvement was shown in the “safety gap” as each age group maintained a longer gap than the younger one preceding it.