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Can Talking On Your Cellphone Get You Killed While Crossing A Busy Road?

Posted Feb 10 2009 10:22am

Children younger than 13 years participating in a very different interactive simulation were more prone to suffer a virtual accident if they talked on the cell phone while they crossed a busy street, researchers have found.

Young teens aren’t the most skilled road-crossers to begin with, the study conductors said. But in the study, speaking on the phone increased the chances of being hit or almost struck by a computer vehicle from 8.5 to 12 percent, a 43 percent increase in risk.

The report was published in the February issue of the magazine Pediatrics. The study comes on on the tails of several others that have shown that speaking on the telephone takes a toll on the concentration and visual processing skills of drivers, and may make the possibility of a vehicular accident four-fold.

Crossing the busy street is very difficult, if you stop and ponder it,” said an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Young teens aren’t able to do it nearly as good, he said, when speaking on the cell phone.

Dr. Schwebel and his colleagues placed 77 preteens in a virtual reality environment that mimicked an intersection, standing across the road from a school with trucks and cars passing by in both directions. Researchers asked the 10- and 11-year-olds to figure out when it would be safe to cross. The preteens stepped off a platform relative the dimensions of a sidewalk when they thought it was ok.

Each child made twelve simulated road crossings, half while talking on the phone. About half of the children were speaking during their first six crossings, while the other half answered calls during the second six crossings.

Although performance improved with time and practice, the psychologists noticed, the telephone conversations distracted the children, making them pay less attention to traffic. While on the telephone, they more often hesitated before leaving the simulated sidewalk and left themselves too little time before another car drove by, causing more close calls and more collisions.

The computer world did not mirror life in one crucial way: it didn’t allow for children to pick up the pace and run across the street, nor could a car slam on the brakes or swerve to avoid an accident, Dr. Schwebel said.

On the other hand, using a telephone wasn’t new to any of the children, Dr. Schwebel noted. All of them had used the phone before.

If you’re a parent, you should probably tell your kids not to be texting or conversing on the telephone, or listening to an iPod for that matter, when walking across a road, said David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on cell phone safety.

This is the same as what we’ve learned about how the mind works when people are driving, Dr. Strayer added. You do need your mind to navigate through the world, whether you’re biking or flying or rollerblading.

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