Distracted pedestrian crossing the road
Distracted pedestrians close the gait

Many bike riders say they have developed a sixth sense to detect when walkers ahead of them are distracted by their phone, and now researchers have discovered why.

Pedestrians subtly alter the way they walk when they become distracted by their phones.

Not only that, but the walking behaviour differs depending on whether the pedestrian is talking on their phone, or texting.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver set up cameras at pedestrian crossings, and then used automated video analysis to examine walking behaviour.

They found more than a third of pedestrians were distracted by their mobile phones—texting and reading or talking and listening.

Distracted pedestrians had more trouble maintaining their walking speed and gait and took longer to cross the road.

The movements of the distracted pedestrians also differed, depending on how they were using their devices. Those who were texting or reading took shorter steps without slowing their step frequency, while those who were talking on their phone took slower steps without changing the length of their strides.

In addition, pedestrians distracted by texting or reading had more unstable movements and disruptions as they walked, compared to those conversing on their phones.

When it came to interactions with vehicles, distracted pedestrians acted differently than those who were not distracted.

To avoid oncoming vehicles, they reduced their speeds by adjusting their step frequency, while non-distracted pedestrians adjusted both their step frequency and the length of their steps.

Recent discoveries have established that there is a relationship between gait and cognitive ability.

Gait measures are shown to be affected by the complexity of the task (e.g., talking and texting) performed during walking.

The researchers in this study speculate that driverless cars may be able to analyse the gait of pedestrians on or near a road ahead, and react appropriately.

Someone should tell them a bike riders brain already does that.

The study was published recently in Transportation Research Record.