How do you normally cross a street? Assuming you’re over the age of five, you’ve probably long stopped deliberately running through a mental list when you cross a street. You don’t stop to think: look left, look right, wait until it’s safe, then cross. This has long become automatic to you; crossing the street is a completely mindless and straightforward activity.
What You Give Up
Because crossing the street is automatic to you, you likely diminish the importance of being alert while doing so. You presume that the drivers will do what they’re supposed to do – to wit, look out for pedestrians – and so as long as you remain in pedestrian walkways, you ought to be safe from oncoming traffic. A quick glance up from the phone lets you know that it’s clear to move forward right now, which is all you need to step into the street, checking your cell phone’s internet the entire way.
You’re perfectly safe, right?
In a study conducted at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, subjects crossed a virtual street either without any distractions or while completing an email-driven scavenger hunt on their phones. While distracted on their phones, they waited longer to start crossing the street, missed safe opportunities to cross, too longer to start crossing when a safe gap was available, looked left and right less often, and spent more time looking away from the road.
Overall, they were far more likely to be hit or almost hit by an oncoming virtual vehicle.
What Does This Mean For College Students?
College students are enjoying their new found freedoms and subsequent responsibilities for the first time.
They’re constantly checking their email for incoming messages from their professors and their text messages for updates on the latest study group or party. They’re likely to spend a lot of time on foot as they move around campus, which makes their every movement susceptible to the distracted pedestrian activity noted in the study.
But while college students are the most likely victims of this problem, they’re far from the only ones.
How Often Are You Distracted?
The study shows that pedestrians engage in considerably riskier behavior when using the mobile internet while crossing the street. While college students are the most likely to be caught in this scenario, anyone who checks their phone while walking is putting themselves at risk.
Do yourself a favor: if you need to look up something on your phone, stop first, check, and start walking only once you’re done. It’s a small adjustment in behavior – but it could save your life.
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