All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

David C Schwebel

Advisory Committee Members

Fred J Biasini

Olivio J Clay

Kathy W Monroe

John W Waterbor

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


Unintentional pedestrian injury is a leading cause of death in the United States. Given the complexity of accurately judging the safety of a street crossing, the task likely becomes even more challenging when pedestrians become distracted by attempting to multitask. Newly introduced cell phone functionalities such as mobile internet may introduce distraction that goes beyond the basic cognitive demand of a phone conversation or even text messaging, both of which distract pedestrians and increase unsafe behavior. The present study examined participants' pedestrian behavior while distracted by mobile internet applications. In addition, we aimed to explore college students' perceptions of the risks of multitasking while crossing the street and the frequency with which they engage in such behaviors. Using a safe and ethical virtual environment (VE), 93 college students completed ten simulated street crossings while distracted by internet applications and ten while not distracted. Given the negative impact of cognitive and visual distraction, we expected participants crossing the virtual street to behave in a riskier manner when using mobile internet applications than when not. To explore risk perceptions and unsafe behavior patterns, we examined responses to several self-report measures. We expected participants would rate the risk of crossing while multitasking as more unsafe for others than for themselves, would report still engaging in the behavior despite being aware of the risk involved, and would report feeling more distracted in the VE while using mobile internet than they thought they would. Results were generally consistent with expectations. Pedestrian behavior was more risky when participants were using mobile internet and crossing the street than when crossing undistracted. Even participants who frequently crossed streets, used mobile internet, or did both simultaneously were as unsafe in the VE as those with less experience. As expected, participants believed using mobile internet while crossing was more unsafe for others than for themselves. However, fewer students than expected recognized the risk of multitasking while crossing. After participating, the majority of participants reported feeling more distracted than they thought they would. Conclusions and implications are discussed.



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