An undergraduate student researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) recently conducted a project that took a unique spin on the distractions involved with mobile devices. Instead of distracted driving, George Gillette studied distracted pedestrians.
“At the beginning of summer 2015, Dr. (Kay) Fitzpatrick pitched to me a couple of interesting fields of research that she thought would be engaging for an undergraduate student to conduct as part of a summer research project,” said Gillette. “One of them was distracted walking. So we developed a study that analyzed the waiting behavior of these distracted pedestrians.”
“The number of pedestrian fatalities has been increasing in recent years and now account for more than 15 percent of all roadway fatalities” noted Fitzpatrick. “It is important to investigate what could be contributing to the increase in pedestrian-involved crashes. Distracted walking may be a factor and this summer research project provided George and TTI with an opportunity to gain additional insights into pedestrian behaviors.”
Under Fitzpatrick’s guidance, and the assistance of TTI researchers Sue Chrysler, Raul Avelar and Mike Pratt, the research team designed a study that calculated start-up time as a measure of how distraction is impacting pedestrian behavior. Start-up time refers to the time between when the walk signal is provided to when the pedestrian begins to walk. The research was conducted on the campus of Texas A&M University and collected data from 750 pedestrians.
“The issue with distracted pedestrians is that a lot of people treat distractions as a multitasking issue,” explained Gillette. “People reason that if they listen to music at work, they can do so safely while walking. What they don’t realize is how mentally and physically engaged they are with the device and that it may provide a dangerous distraction when trying to cross a road.”
The research team found that pedestrians who were texting while waiting at a crosswalk had 21 percent more start-up time and pedestrians talking on the phone had 31 percent more start-up time.
“In a town the size of College Station, that may not seem like a big deal, but if you apply these delays to a larger city with many people waiting to cross, it becomes not only a safety issue but loss of efficiency,” said Gillette.
Gillette and the research team published the results in a Transportation Research Board paper titled The Effect of Distractions on a Pedestrian’s Waiting Behavior at Traffic Signals: An Observational Study.
George Gillette is entering his senior year at Texas A&M University. He is majoring in Civil Engineering and specializes in pedestrian safety and novel data methodologies. During his time at Texas A&M, he has co-founded Engineers Serving the Community and Texas A&M Model United Nations. Additionally, he has worked on a variety of projects outside of this distracted walking paper, including: creating new eye-tracking reduction methods that adjust to the unique visual patterns of the participant, developing image-processing techniques that estimate the volume of tire debris from a moving vehicle, and modelling the impacts of inclement weather on traffic conditions.