As use of handheld multimedia devices has exploded globally, safety experts have begun to consider the impact of distraction while talking, text-messaging, or listening to music on traffic safety. This study was designed to test how talking on the phone, texting, and listening to music may influence pedestrian safety. 138 college students crossed an interactive, semi-immersive virtual pedestrian street. They were randomly assigned to one of four groups: crossing while talking on the phone, crossing while texting, crossing while listening to a personal music device, or crossing while undistracted. Participants distracted by music or texting were more likely to be hit by a vehicle in the virtual pedestrian environment than were undistracted participants. Participants in all three distracted groups were more likely to look away from the street environment (and look toward other places, such as their telephone or music device) than were undistracted participants. Findings were maintained after controlling for demographics, walking frequency, and media use frequency. Distraction from multimedia devices has a small but meaningful impact on college students' pedestrian safety. Future research should consider the cognitive demands of pedestrian safety, and how those processes may be impacted by distraction. Policymakers might consider ways to protect distracted pedestrians from harm and to reduce the number of individuals crossing streets while distracted.
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