It is a familiar sight on the Miami University campus: a student meandering across a crosswalk with head down and thumbs frantically typing a text. Recent research findings suggests this may not be wise.
A 2013 study entitled “Pedestrian injuries due to mobile phone use in public places” by Jack Nasar and Derek Troyer revealed that from 2004 to 2010, although national estimates of total pedestrian injuries decreased, estimates of the percentage of cell phone-related pedestrian injuries increased.
According to the study, in 2004, the national percentage of total pedestrian injuries related to cell phones was 0.58 percent. In 2010, the percentage was 3.67 percent.
The study revealed that most pedestrian injuries occurred for people under the age of 31, with the largest amount of injuries concentrated within the age range 16 to 25.
The study was published in the Accident Analysis & Prevention journal. It used data collected from hospitals across the U.S.
However, Lt. Ben Spilman of the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) said cell phones are not typically a factor in pedestrian accidents at Miami.
“I don’t think that I’ve seen any crash reports where that’s been listed as a factor,” Spilman said. “Inattention is generally always a factor whether it’s on the part of the driver or pedestrian…I think in a lot of cases we can say a cell phone is to blame but there’s lots of other distractions.”
Spilman said the number of pedestrian accidents at Miami is actually relatively low. Since Jan. 1, 2010, there have been 51 traffic crashes reported to MUPD, of which three were pedestrian-related, according to Spilman. The reported summaries of the three pedestrian crashes made no mention of cell phones as a contributing factor.
“Our numbers are fairly low,” Spilman said. “There is not going to be anything you can assign any statistical significance to.”
However, Spilman said MUPD has focused on enforcing pedestrians’ right of way, which has included the addition of signs along the crosswalks reminding drivers to yield to pedestrians. These were added last year.
“It’s an educational component to put those there where crosswalks are but to serve as a reminder too,” Spilman said. “Our officers do take action when vehicles fail to yield to pedestrians. [A vehicle] might find itself stopped by police, particularly at the uncontrolled crosswalks, the ones that don’t have the walk/don’t walk signs.”
Spilman said even at the controlled crosswalks, pedestrians can be unobservant.
“Unfortunately pedestrians don’t pay attention to those controls,” Spilman said. “That can cause some serious traffic problems here in town. Pedestrians aren’t always aware how their presence in the crosswalk can impact the flow of traffic in the town.”
Spilman said there is a lot of work done in the physical facilities department to promote crosswalk safety.
Landscape architect Vinny Cirrito said the principal project is making sure crosswalks are perpendicular to the curb.
“[We] try to have everything perpendicular to the curb so pedestrians can look one way and another and not look behind,” Cirrito said.
He also said the main issue at crosswalks is the amount of people crossing the street.
“We’ve worked with the city to reduce Patterson and High Street to 25 mph,” Cirrito said. “Last year, was the first year that those streets were 25 mph.”
Cirrito also said the number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians is surprisingly low. He said he would attribute it partly to the reduced speed limits.
The 2011 Master Circulation Plan on the Miami physical facilities department website lists other design principles, plans and recommendations for improving crosswalks, including leading building entry walks to major crosswalks and removing and consolidating other crosswalks on campus.
First year Josh Stothfang said he has seen students using cell phones while crossing crosswalks.
“It’s quite like zombies just walking around,” Stothfang said. “They’re engulfed in their phones, they just don’t know what they’re doing.”
First-year Nathan Anneken said he also sees students using cell phones while crossing streets.
“It can be annoying sometimes,” Anneken said. “I think it’s more dangerous when they’re texting than when they’re on the phone because they’re not really paying attention to what’s around them.”
Stothfang said he would guess other colleges and universities also have a large number of students distracted by cell phones when crossing crosswalks.
“I would say it’s a problem [at Miami], but it’s most likely a problem at every other college in the U.S.,” Stothfang said.