The influence of technology on pedestrian safety behaviour

The use of personal electronic devices, such as cell phones and Pods, in everyday situations is a growing safety concern, and there is a common belief that all personal electronic devices threaten pedestrian safety in the same way, that is via distraction. However, recent data indicate that cell phones and iPods influence pedestrian safety behaviours (e.g. looking both ways before crossing a street), in qualitatively different ways, and that cell phones and iPods have different effects on an individual’s behaviour in naturalistic contexts. Building on her earlier research in this area, Sophie Lanthier’s current project will test the hypothesis that cell phone and iPod users are affected differently by these devices: specifically, that cell phone users’ conversations absorb general-purpose attentional resources (i.e. they are distracted from their environment), which increases their likelihood of being in an accident, whereas iPod listeners are not distracted by their music, but rather the music limits auditory input from the environment, rendering them unable to hear unexpected events that could occur after they begin to cross the street. This inability to adapt to a potentially important change in the environment (i.e. a car that has just turned onto the street), could increase an iPod user’s likelihood of being in an accident. This study will help to identify what cues individuals rely on to monitor changes in their environment and how personal electronic devices influence one’s ability to use these cues. With this information firmly in hand, methods to reduce risk in pedestrian behaviours can be undertaken.