Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge UK, have found texters adopt a cautious and exaggerated stepping strategy to avoid tripping over hazards.
Subjects were fitted with eye trackers to record where they looked and motion analysis sensors to record how they walked as they used a phone while negotiating a floor-based obstacle similar in height to a roadside kerb.
They found all phone use, whether texting, phoning or scrawling through contacts, causes users to look less frequently and for less time at the obstacle on the ground. They adopt a cautious strategy, it said, which involves lifting their lead foot higher and slower over the obstacle to reduce the risk of tripping.
Lead author Dr Matthew Timmis, senior lecturer in sport and exercise science at Anglia Ruskin, said: “We found that using a phone means we look less frequently, and for less time, at the ground, but we adapt our visual search behaviour and our style of walking so we’re able to negotiate static obstacles in a safe manner.
“This results in phone users adopting a slow and exaggerated stepping action. Our findings indicate that phone users adopt a cautious approach when faced with fixed objects on the ground.
“Accidents are likely to be the result of objects suddenly appearing that phone users were not aware of, for example other pedestrians or vehicles.”
The problem of text-walkers has become such a problem that cities such as Antwerp in Belgium, has introduced ‘text-walking lanes’ so that they do not irritate or endanger other pedestrians.
The scheme is the brainchild of a local mobile phone business, Mlab, which says many smartphones are broken in collisions between pedestrians.
China has already started segregating footpaths with special lanes for those using their phones.
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The full research paper can also be downloaded from <here>