Don't be a zombie pedestrian - be smart!

Be smart - and safe - when walking and using a smartphone
Be smart - and safe - when walking and using a smartphone

3 August 2017

  • Children using smartphones take longer to cross the road and don’t look both ways as often
  • As many as 17 traffic collisions a day are likely to be result of pedestrians not paying attention
  • ‘Divided attention’ or ‘unintentional blindness’ can prove fatal

Do you use your smartphone while you’re walking? Have you bumped into something or someone because you’re using your smartphone? Have you had an accident because you weren’t paying attention to things around you while using your smartphone?

"The number of people being hurt while using their smartphones is on the increase," said Dr Jo Lumsden, reader in computing science and director of the Aston Interactive Media lab in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Aston University.

"People are reporting all sorts of injuries as a result of using their smartphones while walking; sadly, some people have even died as a result of walking out in front of traffic when using their smartphone. 

She added: "Researchers at Aston University have shown that people fail to spot one out of every five dangers around them when they are texting and walking.1  

"Another study has shown that children using smartphones take 20 per cent longer to cross the street and look both ways 20 per cent less often than if they weren’t using a smartphone and, as a result, are 43 per cent are more likely to be hit by a car.2

"Almost three-quarters of drivers say they have seen ‘zombie pedestrians’ step out into traffic without looking because they were so busy with their smartphones.  In fact, as many as 17 car accidents a day are likely to be the result of pedestrians not paying attention when they go to cross a road. 3  

"When people try to use their smartphones while they are doing other things – like walking or crossing the street – they are said to suffer from ‘divided attention’ or ‘unintentional blindness’ 3 . In other words, they can’t concentrate properly on two things at once, and normally their smartphone wins the battle for their attention, which can prove to be very dangerous."

Researchers in the Aston Interactive Media (AIM) lab are investigating new ways to interact with smartphones so people don’t have to divide their attention between their smartphone and the world around them, and are also developing new methods to test how safe smartphones are to use when out and about.

So, as people set off on The Big Sleuth bear hunt trail across Birmingham and surrounding areas, Dr Lumsden advises the following simple advice to stay smart and safe - and avoid an accident. 

"Avoid ‘distracted walking’ and follow the ASTON guide to safe smartphone use so that you don’t have to visit hospital for an X-ray like Ed The X-ray Bear, Aston Medical School’s own bear sculpture on The Big Sleuth trail."

  • Avoid walking and using your smartphone at the same time, if at all possible
  • Stand still, in a safe place, out of people's way to use your smartphone
  • Turn down the volume in your headphones so you can hear what's happening around you
  • Only use your smartphone if you have checked it's safe to so do first
  • Never cross the street while using your smartphone. 


Notes to the editor

[1] Crease, M., Lumsden, J., & Longworth, B., (2007), A Technique for Incorporating Dynamic Paths in Lab-Based Mobile Evaluations, in Proc. BCS HCI’2007, p. 99-108 
[3] Pedestrian Smartphone Distraction -
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