January 26, 2009 / 5:38 AM / 10 years ago

Drivers beware -- kids crossing with cell phones

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Drivers distracted by their own cell phones need to be on the lookout for a new danger — distracted children crossing streets while talking on their own cell phones.

A woman talks on her cell phone while driving in Burbank, California June 25, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

A team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported on Monday that children who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are 43 percent more likely to be hit by a car than when their phones are turned off.

“Cell phones clearly offer convenience and safeguards to families, but they also may pose risk,” said doctoral student Despina Stavrinos, whose study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Stavrinos said in a statement that children who attempt to multitask while talking on a cell phone have “reduced cognitive capacity to devote to potentially dangerous activities such as crossing streets.”

For the study, Stavrinos and colleagues used virtual reality software and three TV screens to simulate traffic at an actual crosswalk in Birmingham, Alabama.

The team studied the reactions of 77 children ages 10 and 11 crossing the simulated road six times without the phone and six times while talking on the phone with a research assistant.

The children were told to cross the street when they felt it was safe. When children stepped off a “curb” and onto a sensor pad, their moves were captured by a computer.

The researchers found that all of the children, even those who were experienced at talking on cell phones, took more risks when they talking on a cell phone with one of the research assistants than when they were not distracted by their phones.

They also took about 20 percent longer to begin crossing the street, and they were 43 percent more likely to be hit by a vehicle or have a close call when they were on the phone.

Children also forgot to look both ways in about 20 percent of the crossings while on the phone; and they cut it a bit closer, giving themselves 8 percent less time to cross safely in front of oncoming traffic.

“Our results suggest that just as drivers should limit cell phone use while driving, pedestrians — and especially child pedestrians — should limit cell phone use while crossing streets,” the researchers wrote.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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