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Cell phone alerts can help reduce texting pedestrian fatalities

Researchers at the University of Iowa are developing technology that may help to prevent fatalities among pedestrians who are struck by vehicles while texting.

A team led by Dr. Pooya Rahimian produced a computer model of a busy highway to investigate the use of loud cell phone alerts to inform pedestrians who were approaching an unsafe intersection while texting.

The study was focused on 48 participants and more than 300 road-crossing trials in a 3-D immersive pedestrian simulator. The researchers found that loud warning signals were somewhat effective in changing the behavior among distracted pedestrians who were texting.

The group of individuals who received the alerts were more cautious compared to the group of study participants who did not receive the alerts. On the other hand, the team was concerned to find that – even after receiving a warning signal – the individuals never changed their course once they had entered the roadway.

This is consistent with previous research which demonstrated that it is difficult for the brain to stop actions once they have been initiated. In addition, the pedestrians in the warning group spent less time observing the traffic, indicating that they were relying too much on the cell phone alerts.

“Real-time information about when roads are safe or dangerous to cross could aid pedestrians in making good crossing decisions,” wrote the study authors. “However, there are significant challenges in the development of sensor technology to reliably and accurately measure traffic conditions and movement initiation in time to prevent collisions.”

Road safety for pedestrians and cyclists could be dramatically improved by new sensing and communications technologies. Before this can be happen, however, additional research is needed to determine how and when roadway information can be most effectively delivered to individuals who are in harm’s way on the road.

The research is published in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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