Mobile phones are hazardous for kids crossing streets

January 27th, 2009 - 2:50 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 27 (ANI): It has long been known that cell phones are hazardous for drivers, but now, a new danger has popped up on roads: distracted children crossing.
Psychologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have claimed that kids who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are at a higher risk for injuries or death in a pedestrian accident.
For the study, the researchers used a virtual reality software program and three screens to display an actual Birmingham-area crosswalk with simulated vehicles of different sizes travelling on the virtual street.
It was found that all of the children, including those who were experienced with talking on cell phones, crossing streets or rated as highly attentive, were more likely to exhibit risky behaviours when they crossed the virtual street while talking on a cell phone.
“Cell phones clearly offer convenience and safeguards to families, but they also may pose risk. particularly when children attempt to multitask while conversing on the cell phone and have reduced cognitive capacity to devote to potentially dangerous activities such as crossing streets,” said the psychologists.
Specifically, children who were on a cell phone took 20 percent longer to begin crossing the street, and they were 43 percent more likely to be hit by a vehicle or have a close call in the virtual environment.
Also, the children looked both ways 20 percent fewer times before crossing the street and gave themselves 8 percent less time to cross safely in front of oncoming traffic when they were on the cell phone.
The study, published by UAB doctoral student Despina Stavrinos, M.S., under the direction of UAB psychologist David Schwebel, Ph.D. UAB graduate student Katherine Byington also contributed to the study, was conducted on 77 children, aged 10-11.
The kids completed simulated street crossings in the virtual environment-they were asked to cross the virtual street six times without a cell phone and six times while talking on a cell phone with an unfamiliar research assistant.
The researchers asked the children to cross the virtual street when they believed it was safe.
The children stepped from the “curb,” onto a pad with a pressure switch electronically connected to a computer, and the system registered the precise moment they entered the “street.”
UAB psychologists wrote: “Commercial interests actively market cell phones for children, and marketing research firms estimate that 54 percent of children 8-12 will have cell phones by the end of [this year,] double the 2006 rate.”
They cautioned that just as drivers should limit cell phone use while driving, pedestrians, and especially child pedestrians, should avoid using cell phone while crossing streets.
The study will appear in the upcoming issue of Pediatrics. (ANI)

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