For the elderly, talking while walking across streets dramatically increases their chances of getting run over. Earlier research did not find the same connection with younger individuals. Listening to music did not pose the same risk as talking on a cell phone, according to researchers.
These results stem from 2 lab-based studies in which participants have to cross a virtual street by maneuvering on a treadmill. One possible flaw in the study is that people may find it more challenging to walk on a treadmill than an actual street, however the simulation allowed researchers to make sure the exact same conditions were experience by all subjects.
“Many people assume that walking is so automatic that really nothing will get in the way,” Art Kramer, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois who conducted the research, said in a statement. “But actually walking in environments that have lots of obstacles is perhaps not as automatic as one might think.”
Earlier research in a natural setting revealed that talking and walking is so distracting that participants failed to spot a clown riding a unicycle.
Subjects in Kramer’s study took a virtual stroll on a manual treadmill that only moves when the person walks. Images of an intersection were projected on three screens placed in front of, to the right and left of the subject. The treadmill was synced with the virtual environment. Each subject had to complete a journey that included crossing a street, with cars, 3 times; once with no distractions, having a cell-phone conversation, and listening to music on an iPod.
2 studies were conducted.
The first included 36 college students, which showed that students trying to hold a phone conversation took 25% longer to cross the street compared with those without phones and those listening to iPods. Cell-phone users were also less likely to finish crossing the street in the 30 seconds allotted for the task.
The study found that the younger adults were not more likely to get hit by the virtual car, even if they were talking on a cell phones 1.
The 2nd study focused on seniors 60 and older.
“Older adults on the phone got run over about 15 percent more often [than those not on the phone],” Kramer said. Subjects who had a history of falling fared even worse.
“Walking and talking on the phone while old, especially, appears to be dangerous,” Kramer said.
Next time you’re out and about, consider letting the phone go to voicemail for your safety and peace of mind.
- Published by the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention ↩