When Distracted Road Users Cross Paths

This article discusses the problem of road user distraction, highlighting a recent study that examined the role of distraction for both drivers and pedestrians at crosswalks on a college campus. The yielding patterns of road users at seven midblock crosswalks were observed and recorded to determine if distracted drivers and pedestrians behave differently than their attentive counterparts. The researchers recorded the source of the distraction and type of vehicle-pedestrian conflict. On average, about 18% of drivers and 29% of pedestrians were noticeably distracted as they traversed the crosswalks. Approximately 9% of all drivers (50% of distracted drivers) were talking on a cell phone, and 3% of drivers (15% of distracted drivers) were texting. About 16% of pedestrians (54% of distracted pedestrians) were talking on a cell phone and 7% (23% of distracted pedestrians) were texting. When compared to drivers not partaking in a nondriving task, distracted drivers were about 15 times less likely to yield to pedestrians and about 4 times more likely to be involved in conflicts with pedestrians. Results show that drivers were about 40% more likely to yield to distracted pedestrians than to those who were attentive. The results from this analysis suggest that if a high percentage of road users—motorists and pedestrians—are distracted, conflict potential will tend to be greater and, therefore, crash risks will be higher. Since safety problems differ by location, highway agencies need to determine the most effective and appropriate solutions on a case-by-case basis. Crosswalk treatments that stand out, such as high-visibility lighting, striping, and signing, may increase the likelihood that distracted drivers will notice pedestrians. Ultimately, however, a safe roadway environment depends on all road users paying attention to where they are going and being aware of other users who might be sharing the road.


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  • Accession Number: 01360720
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jan 4 2012 9:37PM