British Columbia

More smartphone, less mobile: distracted walkers are slow and unsteady, UBC study finds

UBC engineers used automated video analysis to examine the movements and walking behaviour of 357 pedestrians at a busy four-way intersection in Kamloops, B.C., over a two-day period.

Researchers analyzed movements of more than 350 pedestrians over 2-day period

A study by UBC researchers analyzed the movement of more than 350 pedestrians to assess how cellphone distraction altered their movement. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia has found people walking while focused on their mobile devices move slower than other pedestrians and are less steady on their feet.

UBC engineers used automated video analysis to examine the movements and walking behaviour of 357 pedestrians at a busy four-way intersection in Kamloops, B.C., over a two-day period.

An author of the study said the analysis found more than a third of pedestrians were distracted by their cellphones, and that those pedestrians had more trouble maintaining their walking speed — increasing the potential for accidents by taking longer to cross the road.

According to the study, the pedestrians who were using their phones to text or read took shorter steps without altering how long each step took, while people talking on their phones took slower steps, but didn't alter the length of each stride.

People reading off their phones were found to be less stable on their feet than other pedestrians. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

The analysis also found pedestrians distracted by texting or reading had more unstable movements and disruptions as they walked than other pedestrians.

"This can have applications for safety. They can have less reaction time, they cannot focus on the road, and there are things that need to be done to improve the safety of distracted pedestrians," said Tarek Sayed, professor of civil engineering at UBC and a co-author of the study.

Sayed said the findings could contribute to the development of safe driverless cars, though the team has yet to discuss its work with any autonomous car manufacturers.

"If we're going to design autonomous vehicles that will be safe, we need to understand how different road users take evasive actions in conflict situations, and according to this, the autonomous vehicle can respond with the correct action," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press

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