Smartphone texting is linked to compromised pedestrian safety, with higher rates of ‘near misses’ and failure to look before crossing a road than either listening to music or talking on the phone.
That is the headline finding from research carried out by a team of Canadian academics and published in the online journal Injury Prevention.
However, according to the BMJ, the researchers describe much of the data they analysed as ‘experimental and beset by quality issues’, thereby making it ‘difficult to draw firm conclusions’.
The academics describe establishing the relationship between distracted walking and crash risk as ‘an essential research need’.
The BMJ says ‘pedestrian distraction’ is a recognised safety issue as more and more people use their smartphones or other hand held devices while walking on the pavement and crossing roads.
To try and gauge the potential impact on road safety of hand-held/hands-free device activities – including talking on the phone, text messaging, browsing and listening to music – the Canadian researchers analysed the published evidence.
They pooled the data from 14 studies (involving 872 people) and systematically reviewed the data from another eight.
They looked specifically at: time taken to start walking or begin crossing the road; missed opportunities to cross safely; time taken to cross the road; looking left and right before or during crossing; and collisions and close calls with other pedestrians and vehicles.
Their analysis showed that listening to music wasn’t associated with any heightened risk of potentially harmful pedestrian behaviours.
Talking on the phone was associated with a ‘small increase in the time taken to start crossing the road’ and slightly more ‘missed opportunities to cross the road safely’.
However, text messaging emerged as the potentially most harmful behaviour – associated with significantly lower rates of looking left and right right before and/or while crossing the road, and with moderately increased rates of collisions and close calls with other pedestrians or vehicles.
Texting also affected the time taken to cross a road and missed opportunities to cross safely, but to a lesser extent.
While acknowledging ‘a variety of study quality issues which limit the generalisability of the findings’, the research team nevertheless concluded: “Given the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, apps, digital video and streaming music, which has infiltrated most aspects of daily life, distracted walking and street crossing will be a road safety issue for the foreseeable future.
“Establishing the relationship between distracted walking behaviour and crash risk is an essential research need.”