Experiential exposure to texting and walking in virtual reality: A randomized trial to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior

Academic Article


  • Background Distracted pedestrian behavior is a significant public health concern, as research suggests distracted pedestrians have significantly higher risk of injury compared to fully attentive pedestrians. Despite this, efforts to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior are scant. Objective Using a repeated measures experimental research design, we implemented a behavioral intervention to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior in the high-risk environment of an urban college campus and simultaneously monitored behavior on a control urban college campus not exposed to the intervention. We had two primary aims: reduce perceived vulnerability to injury among individual pedestrians and reduce distracted pedestrian behavior in the environment through a change in community-based norms. Methods The hallmark of the behavioral intervention was a week-long opportunity for community members to experience personally the risks of distracted pedestrian behavior by attempting to cross a virtual pedestrian environment street while text-messaging. This was supplemented by traditional and social marketing and publicity through various campus partners. A sample of 219 individuals completed self-report surveys about perceived vulnerability to distracted pedestrian injury before experiencing the distracted virtual street-crossing and again after 2 weeks and 5 months. Observational assessment of distracted pedestrian behavior was conducted at a busy intersection on the campus as well as at a control campus not exposed to the intervention at baseline, post-intervention, 10 weeks, and 6 months. Results The intervention achieved mixed results. Individuals exposed to texting within a simulated pedestrian environment reported changes in their intentions to cross streets while distracted and in perceived vulnerability to risk while crossing streets, but we did not witness evidence of changed community norms based on observed rates of distracted pedestrian behavior before and after the intervention compared to a control campus not exposed to the intervention. Discussion The intervention created some change in self-reported intentions and thoughts but did not create significant behavior change on the campus exposed to it. Further efforts to develop interventions that will yield a reduction in distracted pedestrian behavior are needed.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 21869692
  • Author List

  • Schwebel DC; McClure LA; Porter BE
  • Start Page

  • 116
  • End Page

  • 122
  • Volume

  • 102