January 30, 2009
For Children, Talking and Walking May Be Dangerous
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Preteens participating in an unusual interactive simulation were more likely to suffer a virtual accident if they talked on the phone while they were crossing a street, researchers have found.
Children aren’t the most skilled street-crossers to begin with, researchers said. But in the simulation, talking on the phone increased the odds of being hit or almost hit by a virtual car from 8.5 to 12 percent, a 43 percent increase in risk.
The report was published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics. The study comes on the heels of several others that have shown that talking on the phone takes a toll on the attention and visual processing skills of drivers, and may increase the risk of an automobile accident four-fold.
“Crossing the street is very complicated, if you stop and think about it,” said senior author David C. Schwebel, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Preteens aren’t able to do it nearly as well, he said, when talking on the phone.
Dr. Schwebel and his colleagues placed 77 children in a virtual reality environment that mimicked an intersection, standing across the street from a school with cars passing by in both directions. Researchers asked the 10- and 11-year-olds to decide when it would be best to cross. The children stepped off a platform roughly the height of a sidewalk curb when they thought it was safe.
Each child made a dozen virtual street crossings, half while talking on cellphones. About half of the children were talking during their first six crossings, while the other half received calls during the second six crossings.
Although performance improved with time and practice, the psychologists found, the phone calls distracted the children, making them less attentive to traffic. While on the phone, they more often hesitated before stepping off the virtual curb and left themselves too little time before another car drove by, leading to more close calls and more collisions.
The virtual environment did not imitate life in one important way: it did not allow for children to pick up the pace and run across the street, nor could a car slam on the brakes or swerve to avoid an accident, Dr. Schwebel said.
On the other hand, using a cellphone wasn’t new to any of the children, Dr. Schwebel noted. All of them had used the phones before.
“If you’re a parent, you should probably tell your kids not to be texting or talking on the phone, or listening to an iPod for that matter, when crossing an intersection,” said David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on cellphone safety.
“This is consistent with what we know about how the mind works when people are driving,” Dr. Strayer added. “You do need your mind to navigate through the world, whether you’re biking or driving or rollerblading or walking.”
To play a video showing the virtual simulation, visit Dr. Schwebel’s Web site at the University of Alabama.
Posted by Wee Care Nanny Agency