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Crossing The Street: Simple or Unsafe?

When we were young, our parents taught us how to cross the street ― look left, look right, look left again, judge how quickly it will take to cross the road and make sure cars are going at a reasonable speed. However, with the advent of new technologies, researchers are finding that cellular devices and MP3 players are hindering students’ abilities to do just that. The problem doesn’t just stop at elementary schoolers ― even college students have trouble with it.

A study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham last year tested how distractions impact teenagers’ ability to cross the street. Dr. David Schwebel put students at the university through his virtual-environment lab, which simulates cars moving in different directions. Subjects attempted to cross a two-lane road while simulated cars drove on the “street” at 30 miles per hour. Approximately 125 students were tested while texting, while talking on a cell phone, while listening to music with ear buds or while walking without distractions.

Unsurprisingly, the pedestrians who were talking on the phone were twice as likely to be hit as those with zero distractions, from 12 percent compared to six percent. Also expected were the results that people texting while crossing the road were twice as likely to be hit as those merely talking on the phone, up to 25 percent.

What Schwebel didn’t expect was how much listening to music impacted the students’ ability to cross the street. One in three, or 33 percent, of the pedestrians were hit when listening to music with ear buds. Schwebel concluded, then, that pedestrians use their ears much more than previously thought to cross roads safely.

With schools like the University of Arizona and other colleges starting up soon, teenagers should know the dangers in “distracted walking.” Talk with your teenager about putting the phone away when crossing the street and traveling. Failure to do so can lead to fatal consequences, and helping your child understand the risks involved could save their life.

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