Phones are smart, texting pedestrians not so much

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Phones are smart, texting pedestrians not so much

People staring at their devices lose some of their ability to walk, a study has found

Cape Town bureau chief

Smartphones are reversing human evolution, a study in Canada appears to show.
After analysing footage from cameras filming pedestrians at an intersection for two days, engineers at the University of British Columbia said people staring at smartphones lose some of their ability to walk.
What they called “distracted pedestrians” had trouble maintaining their speed and gait and took longer to cross the road, “increasing the potential for conflict with vehicles”, lead author Rushdi Alsaleh said in the journal Transportation Research Record.The aim of the research was to help develop safer roads and self-driving cars, which will have to respond instantly to the behaviour of pedestrians.
“We found that more than a third of pedestrians were distracted by their cellphones, texting and reading or talking and listening,” said Alsaleh, whose team mounted three cameras at a busy four-way intersection near the university in Kamloops.
The movements of the distracted pedestrians differed depending on how they were using their devices.
Those who were texting or reading took shorter steps without slowing their step frequency, while those who were talking took slower steps without changing the length of their strides.
Pedestrians distracted by texting or reading had more unstable movements and disruptions as they walked, compared with those conversing on their phones.
“When it came to interactions with vehicles, distracted pedestrians acted differently than those who were not distracted,” said study co-author Mohamed Zaki.
“To avoid oncoming vehicles, they reduced their speeds by adjusting their step frequency, while non-distracted pedestrians adjusted both their step frequency and the length of their steps.”Video from the cameras was automatically analysed using software, and civil engineering professor Tarek Sayed said the findings showed this was more accurate than manual or semi-automated methods.
“Most pedestrian computer models do not account for the unusual walking behaviour of pedestrians distracted by phones,” he said.
“Our research is focused on explaining how accidents occur on roads by better modelling the behaviour of people and cars on the road. We hope that our methods can be used to calibrate pedestrian simulation programs more accurately, helping planners to build safer roads and engineers to design smarter autonomous vehicles.”

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