The Effects of Simulated Cellular Phone Conversation on Road-Crossing Safety
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The effects that cellular (cell) phone conversation may have on pedestrian road-crossing performance is unknown. A series of experiments was conducted using a virtual reality road crossing simulator to examine this issue. The participants were primarily university students aged between 18 and 24 years old, although one study compared a group aged 18 to 24 to a group between 50 and 67 years old. Two experimental situations were used: a gap-choice situation, in which the participants had to choose a gap to cross through; and an infrequency situation, where vehicles were present on only 10% of the trials. Participants were impaired by a simulated phone conversation task when compared to no-conversation task, as evidenced by longer reaction times, slower walking speeds, poorer gap choices, and more cautious behaviours. Most importantly, conversation was related to a decrease in the mean margins of safety, and the participants were hit or nearly hit by vehicles more often when talking. The general performance of the older participants did not differ from that of the younger participants, and both groups were impaired to a similar extent by the conversation task. Participants were found to use irrelevant distance information to inform their gap-choice decisions, a strategy associated with a decrease in safety as the distance between the vehicles increased. It was also found that their use of time-to-arrival information was impaired when engaged in the conversation task. Overall, talking on a cell phone while crossing a road may represent an unnecessary increase in risk; therefore, care should be taken if these two acts are being conducted concurrently.