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Walking while talking on a cell phone can be dangerous

This is an excerpt from Motor Learning and Performance, Fourth Edition, by Richard A. Schmidt, PhD, and Craig A. Wrisberg, PhD.

Recent research suggests that walking and talking on a cell phone can be dangerous (Hatfield & Murphy, 2007). In that study, the behaviors of more than 500 pedestrians were observed as they crossed a street. Pedestrians who were talking on a cell phone moved more slowly and were less likely to wait for cars to stop or even look at traffic before setting out compared with those who were not using a cell phone. These findings suggest that talking on a cell phone is a form of cognitive distraction that can put pedestrians at risk.

These phenomena have also been demonstrated recently in studies about cell phones and driving (see Strayer, Drews, & Johnston, 2003). It is not simply the buttonpressing that is distracting; the conversation itself is distracting—especially when you consider that button-pressing is brief and conversation may be lengthy. This casts doubts about the effectiveness of the recent bans on handheld cell phones (but not hands-free phones) while driving in various U.S. states; because it is not only the action of the hands that is distracting, these bans might not have very much effect on driver safety.

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