Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Plight of the distracted pedestrian: a research synthesis and meta-analysis of mobile phone use on crossing behaviour
  1. Sarah M Simmons1,
  2. Jeff K Caird1,2,3,
  3. Alicia Ta1,
  4. Franci Sterzer1,
  5. Brent E Hagel2,3,4,5,6
  1. 1 Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  3. 3 O'Brien Institute of Public Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  4. 4 Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  5. 5 Department of Pediatrics, University of Calgary, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  6. 6 Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Calgary, Calgary, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jeff K Caird, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 4Z6, Canada; jkcaird{at}


Background Pedestrians are commonly involved in vehicle collisions that result in injuries and fatalities. Pedestrian distraction has become an emerging safety issue as more pedestrians use their mobile phones while walking and crossing the street.

Objectives The purpose of this research synthesis and meta-analysis is to determine the extent to which cell phone conversation, text messaging or browsing, and listening to music affect a number of common pedestrian behavioural measures.

Methods A keyword search was developed with a subject librarian that used MeSH terms from selected databases including PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus, Medline and TRID. Supplemental searches were also conducted with Google Scholar and Mendeley.

Effect size coding Thirty-three studies met inclusion criteria and were subjected to data extraction. Statistical information (ie, M, SD, SE, 95% CI, OR, F, t) was extracted to generate standardised mean difference effect sizes (ie, Cohen’s d) and r effect sizes.

Results Fourteen experimental studies were ultimately included in an N-weighted meta-analysis (k=81 effect sizes), and eight observational studies were included in a qualitative overview. Both mobile phone conversation and text messaging increased rates of hits and close calls. Texting decreased rates of looking left and right prior to and/or during street crossing. As might be expected, text messaging was generally found to have the most detrimental effect on multiple behavioural measures.

Limitations A variety of study quality issues limit the interpretation and generalisation of the results, which are described, as are future study measurement and methods improvements.

  • pedestrian
  • distraction
  • metanalysis
  • systematic review

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors JKC proposed the research project and edited the manuscript and the synthesis of observational studies. SMS conducted a preliminary literature review and refined the research method for the current manuscript. SMS conducted the meta-analysis of experimental studies and wrote the first manuscript draft. SMS, in consultation with a subject librarian, developed a search strategy and conducted the electronic search. SMS and AT conducted study selection (ie, abstract screening, full-text review). SMS extracted data, and AT and FS double checked the extracted data for accuracy. FS conducted the synthesis of observational studies (see supplementary materials). BEH provided critical review of the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note * Indicates experimental study included in the meta-analysis and # indicates an observational study that was included in the qualitative summary.