Study: Walking While Talking on Cell Phones Hazardous for Children

Children who walk while talking on their cell phone may be too distracted to cross the street safely, a new study suggests.

In tests that had 10- and 11-year-olds walk in a simulated "virtual" neighborhood, researchers found that when the children talked on a cell phone as they traveled, they paid less attention to traffic and were more likely to step into the path of a virtual car.

The effects were seen regardless of how much experience a child had in using a cell phone or in being pedestrian, according to Despina Stavrinos and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"Cell phones are not necessarily bad for children to carry and use," the researchers write in the journal Pediatrics.

"However," they add, "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 study included 77 children who completed a dozen simulated road crossings, half of them while talking on a cell phone to one of the research assistants.

In general, the researchers found, the children paid less attention to traffic when they were on the cell phone and were more likely to find themselves in situations where, in real life, they would have been hit by a car or narrowly missed an accident.

Being a pedestrian is a "multifaceted" task that requires a combination of mental focus, perception and motor skills, the researchers point out. Cell-phone distractions further complicate that job.

It's possible, they note, that other types of distractions — listening to music, text messaging or even talking to someone with you — make crossing the street more risky. But those studies have not yet been done.