In South Africa pedestrian deaths amount to approximately 35-40% of road fatalities. Past development of informal settlements next to national roads can be blamed for many of these pedestrians crossing highways. Other factors include walking whilst drunk – and drivers driving at inappropriate speeds on our roads – or not adjusting their speeds to the road conditions.
A factor which is however often neglected is distracted pedestrian behaviour. Much focus is placed on distracted driving and the risks of cellular conversations, texting while driving etc. We tend to forget that technology has not escaped the pedestrians – and many are walking next to and on our roads whilst chatting on their mobile phones, listening to music on their iPods, texting or even playing games on their mobile devices!
Yesterday we added an accident report on the Road Safety Blog of a tragic accident on the N1 near Cape Town. A pedestrian was knocked out of his shoes in this fatal accident. Even though the cause of the accident is still under investigation – it is worthwhile to consider the risks of pedestrian distractions.
Pedestrian Distraction Study / Inattentional Blindness
A recent study in the US revealed that Pedestrians who talk on a cellphone are slower, change direction more, have difficulty navigating – and are less likely to notice obvious distractions.
Researchers observed 317 pedestrians as they crossed the main square of the campus of Western Washington University using the 114m main diagonal pathway. The people observed were either talking on a cellphone, listening to a personal music player, in conversation with another pedestrian, or walking alone, without any electronic devices.
The study involved researchers noting the time it took them to cross the square, whether they stopped, zig-zagged or stumbled; how many times they changed direction, and whether they collided with another person, or nearly did.
The pedestrians were also monitored to see if they noticed the “unusual stimulus” the researchers had placed just off the walking path: a brightly-coloured unicycling clown.
“Unicyclists are very rare on campus pathways,” the authors of the study, which will be published in the December issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology, wrote.
Only 25 percent of people using their cellphones noticed the clown, while more than half of people in the other groups noticed him.
Failure to see the clown could not be blamed on the use of an electronic device per se, because 61 percent of people using a music player saw the unicyclist, or on having a conversation, because chatting couples were the most likely – 71 percent – to see the clown, the study said.
Instead, the study suggested that cellphone users fail to notice what is going on around them, a phenomenon called “inattentional blindness”.
“This means that they may miss more than the unicycling clown and experience difficulty recognising and using information needed to navigate through a complex and changing environment,” which might not be overly dangerous when walking in a pedestrian zone but can be when bikes or cars are introduced into the equation, or the cellphone user is driving. [Information from AFP]
Advice to Vehicle Owners/ Drivers
Even though this emphasizes the need to alert pedestrians to the dangers of pedestrian distraction – it also should raise the alarm amongst drivers. Safe driving will require that we implement safety measures and suggestions and use the information at hand. On the Car Insurance Blog at carinsurance.arrivealive.co.za we would like to assist our vehicle owners in avoiding insurance claims from road accidents.
We would like to advise the following:
• Do not expect that you are seen – drive with your lights on!!
• Always expect the unexpected – reduce speed in the vicinity of pedestrian activity
• Monitor the behaviour of pedestrians [especially children] next to the road.
• Be prepared for sudden swerving movements or pedestrians running across the road.
• Be very cautious in bad weather and additional environmental dangers such as wind, rain, fog and mist.