The Effects of Cell Phone and Text Message Conversations on Simulated Street Crossing

Hum Factors. 2016 Feb;58(1):150-62. doi: 10.1177/0018720815609501. Epub 2015 Oct 21.


Objective: A fully immersive, high-fidelity street-crossing simulator was used to examine the effects of texting on pedestrian street-crossing performance.

Background: Research suggests that street-crossing performance is impaired when pedestrians engage in cell phone conversations. Less is known about the impact of texting on street-crossing performance.

Method: Thirty-two young adults completed three distraction conditions in a simulated street-crossing task: no distraction, phone conversation, and texting. A hands-free headset and a mounted tablet were used to conduct the phone and texting conversations, respectively. Participants moved through the virtual environment via a manual treadmill, allowing them to select crossing gaps and change their gait.

Results: During the phone conversation and texting conditions, participants had fewer successful crossings and took longer to initiate crossing. Furthermore, in the texting condition, smaller percentage of time with head orientation toward the tablet, fewer number of head orientations toward the tablet, and greater percentage of total characters typed before initiating crossing predicted greater crossing success.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that (a) texting is as unsafe as phone conversations for street-crossing performance and (b) when subjects completed most of the texting task before initiating crossing, they were more likely to make it safely across the street.

Application: Sending and receiving text messages negatively impact a range of real-world behaviors. These results may inform personal and policy decisions.

Keywords: distraction; mobile technology; pedestrian safety; simulation; texting; virtual environments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cell Phone*
  • Head / physiology
  • Humans
  • Pedestrians*
  • Safety*
  • Text Messaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Young Adult