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Study: Cell Phone Use Causes Pedestrians to Slow Down, Wander Off Course

Jan. 20, 2012
New research from Stony Brook University warns pedestrians that walking while texting or chatting on a cell phone may cause them to slow down or veer off course, highlighting potential safety concerns for pedestrian cell phone use.

The research comes on the heels of a University of Maryland study that examined the dangers pedestrians face when listening to music while walking.

Researchers studied 33 men and women in the 20s who owned and used cell phones. Participants were shown a target on the floor 8 meters away. They were then blindfolded and instructed to walk at a comfortable pace to the target and stop. Participants repeated the same walk three times. After each walk, researchers measured the amount of time it took and the participant’s position once stopped.

One week later, with vision occluded except for the ability to see a cell phone, participants repeated the walk. One-third of participants completed the same task; one-third completed the task while talking on a cell phone; and one-third completed the task while texting.

According to Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, co-author of the study and clinical associate professor at Stony Brook University, participants using cell phones to text and those who used cell phones to talk were significantly slower, with 33 and 16 percent reductions in speed, respectively. Moreover, participants who were texting while walking veered off course, demonstrating a 61 percent increase in lateral deviation and 13 percent increase in distance traveled.

"We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one's gait and memory recall of the target location," Lamberg said.

Although walking seems automatic, areas in the brain controlling executive function and attention are necessary for walking. Lamberg said these results indicate cell phone use and texting impacts working memory of these tasks, and bring new insight into the effects of multi-tasking with mobile devices.

The study appears in the online edition of Gait & Posture.

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