The impact of walking while using a smartphone on pedestrians’ awareness of roadside events

Ming I.Brandon Lin, Yu Ping Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies have shown that using a cell phone to talk or text while walking changes gait kinematics and encourages risky street-crossing behaviors. However, less is known about how the motor-cognitive interference imposed by smartphone tasks affects pedestrians’ situational awareness to environmental targets relevant to pedestrian safety. This study systematically investigated the influence of smartphone use on detection of and responses to a variety of roadside events in a semi-virtual walking environment. Twenty-four healthy participants completed six treadmill walking sessions while engaged in a concurrent picture-dragging, texting, or news-reading task. During distracted walking, they were required to simultaneously monitor the occurrence of road events for two different levels of event frequency. Performance measures for smartphone tasks and event responses, eye movements, and perceived workload and situational awareness were compared across different dual-task conditions. The results revealed that during dual-task walking, the reading app was associated with a significantly higher level of perceived workload, and impaired awareness of the surrounding environment to a greater extent compared with the texting or picture-dragging apps. Pedestrians took longer to visually detect the roadside events in the reading and texting conditions than in the dragging condition. Differences in event response performances were mainly dependent on their salient features but were also affected by the type of smartphone task. Texting was found to make participants more reliant on their central vision to detect road events. Moreover, different gaze-scanning patterns were adopted by participants to better protect dual-task performance in response to the changes in road-event frequency. The findings of relationships between workload, dual-task performances, and allocation strategies for visual attention further our understanding of pedestrian behavior and safety. By knowing how attentional and motor demands involved in different smartphone tasks affect pedestrians’ awareness to critical roadside events, effective awareness campaigns might be devised to discourage smartphone use while walking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-96
Number of pages10
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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