women texting and walking

Texting While Walking

My Take

In anticipation of talking about the issue of texting while walking on a panel at the HFES Annual Conference, I tried it out. I tried crossing an intersection by the conference hotel that was busy with traffic while typing out a text message. I have never done this before but I had read a lot of research on how distracting texting can be. I felt that a personal experience would help me talk about it more intelligibly.

Luckily I was able to do it safely, give a good talk on the panel, and go on my way. Then I saw this paper in the Human Factors journal. The study by a team from the Universities of Illinois and Iowa used a simulator (safety first!) to compare crossing the street while talking, texting, or neither. Texting and talking on the phone were both associated with fewer safe crossings and took longer to cross (which means that the light could change on them).

Results suggest that (a) texting is as unsafe as phone conversations for street-crossing performance and (b) when subjects completed most of the texting task before initiating crossing, they were more likely to make it safely across the street.

We shouldn’t be surprised that texting while crossing the street is dangerous. Do we need a study to show us? Since so many people do it, perhaps we do.

Your Turn

Do you text while walking? While crossing the street? While driving? It would be interesting to hear some stories about close calls.

Image Credit: Jan Vašek

4 thoughts on “Texting While Walking”

  1. I thought “no, duh” also. And yet there is so much research coming out on the subject. For example there was just a paper in Safety Science that found talking to be more distracting than texting and reading, which was more distracting than music.

    Sometimes, the specific details can be informative (just how much the risk increases or how much time is needed or . . . .). In the new Safety Science paper, 10% of pedestrians (averaged across all conditions) were using their phones while crossing the street at an unsignalized intersection and only 3% when there was a signal. I am curious as to why that might be (they didn’t study that question).

    Another interesting finding is that 80% of people using their phones engaged in unsafe crossing behavior while 60% of those not using phones did also.

  2. I wonder if we would have seen so many “duhs” if the results showed something quite different. Many times actual research has prevailed on preoccupied ideas even when we are 100% about these ideas. One thing I have learnt – the hard way – is to always expect the unexpected because one day you will be proved wrong. That being said I am glad the research supports the common understanding that texting is dangerous.

  3. Karl – I second that! My favorite results are the counter-intuitive ones. That shows we actually learned something.

    It might be disconcerting to my self-image as an HF guru if it happened too often though :-).

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