Fall 2016 Issue

Research Exchange

How Distractions Can Alter Pedestrian Behavior
researchx1.jpg With more people multi-tasking with electronic devices, researchers are starting to take a closer look at distracted pedestrians. A team of researchers from Texas A&M Transportation Institute conducted a study of pedestrians at crosswalks to evaluate the influence of waiting time, distraction and crossing alone or in groups.

The team looked at various distractions: texting, talking on the phone, listening to music, eating, drinking and smoking. 

Researchers observed 760 pedestrians at three intersections in College Station, Texas for this study. Of the pedestrians observed, 263 were determined to be distracted. More than 60 percent of the distracted pedestrians were texting. The second most common distraction, at 16 percent, was eating, drinking or smoking. 

The study found that pedestrians who texted and talked on the phone took 21 percent and 53 percent more time to start crossing. 

Distractions also played a role in whether or not pedestrians looked before entering a roadway. About 
76 percent of all pedestrians observed glanced before entering the roadway, but pedestrians who were texting were two-times less likely to glance than a pedestrian who was not distracted. And a pedestrian engaged in a phone conversation was about five times less likely to glance before entering a crosswalk, the study found. 

Pedestrians who listened to music were three times more likely to enter a crosswalk early before the “walk” signal and two-and-a-half times less likely to glance than an undistracted pedestrian. 

People who were in groups, either mixed-age or peer, were much less likely to cross early, something researchers said could have been the result of not wanting to exhibit bad behaviors in front of others.
The researchers said their findings could provide insight into ongoing discussion on how to address distracted pedestrians crossing at roadways. While they said that wait time at a signal may lead pedestrians to engage in distracting behaviors, they suggested further study on that issue.

—Summary by Melissa Hayes. Researchers: George Gillette, Dr. Kay Fitzpatrick, Dr. Susan Chrysler, Dr. Raul Avelar, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, College Station, Texas
researchx2.jpgHow Much is a Point of Walk Score Worth?

Walkable communities—and homes in close proximity to amenities—are highly desirable. But how much is walkability worth when buying or selling a home?

A researcher at the MIT Center for Real Estate (CRE), consulting for the web-based real estate company Redfin, studied this issue by analyzing sale prices and Walk Score ratings of more than one million homes sold between January 2014 and April 2016 in 14 major metropolitan areas. Walk Score is a private company that grades communities on their walkability on a scale of 1 to 100. 

The research found that one Walk Score point can increase the value of a home by an average $3,250 or 0.9 percent. 

The study looked at home sales in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

An additional Walk Score point carried less weight in communities with low overall scores than in those with high Walk Score ratings. For example, an increase in Walk Score from 19 to 20 resulted in an average home price increase of $181, the study found. But an increase in Walk Score from 79 to 80 resulted in a home price increase of more than $7,000.

The results were also skewed by metro area. The study found that a change in Walk Score from 60 to 80 points in San Francisco raised a home’s value by nearly $190,000, but in Phoenix the same increased walkability only added $15,700 to a comparable home’s value. 

The study also found that luxury home owners were willing to pay a higher premium for a property with an elevated Walk Score.   
The entire report is available on Redfin.com.

 —Summary by Melissa Hayes. Report Authors: Sheharyar Bokhari, MIT Center for Real Estate & Redfin Consultant  
How a Smile Affects a Driver’s Behavior

Studies have shown that smiling has a positive effect on interpersonal attraction and perception, but could a smile get a driver to stop or slow down for a pedestrian? 

Researchers from the University of South Brittany in France set out to expand on the research about the effects of smiling by analyzing pedestrian interactions with motorists. The study was driven by France’s high pedestrian-crash rate.

This same team conducted an earlier study on the effects of a pedestrian making eye contact with a driver.

Pedestrians account for nearly 15 percent of all crash victims in France. In urban areas, the statistics are more startling—50 percent of pedestrians killed in crashes were in a crosswalk. Nearly 60 percent of drivers in France do not stop when a pedestrian is waiting at a pedestrian crossing, even if regulations dictate pedestrians have the right of way.

As with the earlier study, the researchers used four undergraduate students—two men and two women—to measure the response of drivers to pedestrian behaviors. In this study, the students participated in three experiments as part of the study to determine whether a smile could change a driver’s behavior. 

This study consisted of three experiments, two to measure the effects of a smile on motorists stopping for pedestrians and a third to gauge whether a smile could alter a driver’s speed.

In the first two experiments, it was observed that drivers stopped for a smiling pedestrian more often than for a pedestrian who was not smiling. The first experiment found drivers stopped for smiling pedestrians 62.9 percent of the time, compared to 50.1 percent when the pedestrian had a neutral expression. The second experiment found drivers stopped 28.5 percent for a smile, compared to only 17.3 percent of the time when the pedestrian was not smiling. It was also noted that drivers stopped for smiling pedestrians even in situations where they were not required to allow the pedestrian to cross the road.

These findings were similar to the earlier research, which found that when the students attempted to make eye contact with a driver, the vehicle stopped 67.7 percent of the time. When the students did not try to make eye contact, motorists only stopped 55.1 percent of the time. This earlier study also found that drivers were more likely to stop for females than males, 65 percent compared to 57.8 percent.

In the third experiment in the smile study, after a female research assistant crossed the road, she noted the time it took a car to travel to a second point on the road and then calculated the driver’s speed. 

Drivers travelled an average 46.08 km/h when the research assistant had a neutral expression. The speed dropped to 43.02 km/h when she smiled. This experiment was only conducted with a female student.  

The findings of this experiment support the hypothesis that motorists drive slowly after a pedestrian smiles at them while crossing the road. 

The researchers note that the study has limitations. The experiments were conducted in areas with a lower speed limit. So it can be assumed that the effect of smiling in areas with higher speed limit will vary.
The full text of this study can be requested through ResearchGate.

—Summary by Debleena Anand. Researchers: Nicolas Guéguen, Chloé Eyssartier, Sébastien Meineri, University of South Brittany, Vannes, France
Elderly Prefer Volunteer Drivers

There has been a marked increase in the number of licensed elderly drivers in the United States. In 2015, 78.4 percent of adults aged 70 and older were licensed drivers, compared to only 55.0 percent in 1983. 

Research has found that among older adults who do not drive, the most frequently used mode of transportation is obtaining rides from others. This leaves them with more limited mobility, a diminished quality of life and fewer social interactions than for those who can drive. Only 2 percent of daily travel by seniors overall is made by other modes, such as buses, shuttle buses and taxis, though transit use increases slightly among those 75 years and older.

Researchers at Mississippi State University conducted a nationwide survey to evaluate the elderly population’s perceptions and preferences of these alternative modes. The findings of this study were seen as aiding municipalities in developing transportation options for their residents. 

Seniors were asked their preferences among five transportation options: volunteer drivers, community shuttle buses, senior center-based shuttle buses, prepaid taxi services (in which taxi companies provide a fixed number of rides for a monthly fee) and coordinated bus/rail service to distant medical centers.

Volunteer drivers were the most popular option, followed by community shuttle buses and senior center-based shuttle buses. The researchers suggested that volunteer drivers are attractive because of convenience and the personal connection with drivers. However the shuttle buses were seen as freeing seniors from being dependent on volunteer availability, giving them more independence.
Seniors who drive are more open to the transportation alternatives options, the study found. This, the researchers suggested, may be the result of drivers having less experience with actually using the options and the difficulties they sometimes pose. 

Among the study’s recommendations: “For a successful implementation a public service marketing campaign may be launched to inform older adults (and their caregivers) of the services available. Included in this campaign might be encouragement towards a step by step transition from driving all the time to being driven all the time.”
This study is available through ScienceDirect. 

—Summary by Debleena Anand. Researchers: Md Mahmudur Rahman, Lesley Strawderman, Crolyn Adams-Price, Joshua J. Turner, Mississippi State University   

Planning for Cars that Drive Themselves

With several automated features already taking over the high-end car market, it is believed that fully autonomous vehicles will be seen on the city streets and highways in the coming years reducing congestion and traffic collisions. This study focuses on how the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are preparing for this most transformative transportation technology and why they have not included autonomous vehicles in their long range plans.

This study reviewed the Regional Transportation Plans (RTPs) of the 25 most populous metropolitan areas in the United States and included in-depth interviews with MPO officials. It found that uncertainty about timing and impacts of driverless cars are the strongest reason MPOs do not incorporate them into their long range plans. But the study also found a high awareness rate of the latest developments in automated vehicle technologies, legislation and research. 

According to the MPOs, self-driven cars will have significant impacts on travel behavior, safety, car ownership, infrastructure, land-use and settlement patterns. The MPOs agreed that driverless cars could be rapidly transformative if encouraged with federal policies as it was with the seatbelts, air bags etc. in the past and would effect road capacity and traffic safety. 

Self-driven cars could increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by lowering the time-costs of travel and parking and by giving increased mobility to children, the elderly, the blind and others who have driving restrictions. The technology could enable more car-sharing, better transit and shift drivers from paying lump sums for vehicles insurance to paying for each trip or mile driven. 

The study found that some planners believed that it would create more tech jobs while others worry about the unemployment of truck and taxi drivers. There were also concerns about investing in expensive rail projects which might become obsolete soon. But planners were divided about whether members of the millennial generation who are driving less and choosing urban lifestyles will flock to self-driving cars or continue to prefer transit. 

Because of the uncertainty surrounding this technology, government agencies do not want to risk millions of dollars on smart infrastructure that could fail. The first step towards including the technology in RTPs is by incorporating it into scenario planning efforts. MPOs have also indicated examining the potential impact of such technology with regional strengths, weaknesses opportunities, threats (SWOT) analyses, regional operation plans, brainstorming sessions with local universities, industry leaders and government officials.  

The study recommends MPOs be cautious when considering the impacts driverless cars would have on improving air quality, congestion and vehicle crashes; that the agencies plan for autonomous vehicles beyond the RTP process; and that investment risks be considered.
The full text of this study can be requested through ResearchGate.

—Summary by Debleena Anand. Researcher: Erick Guerra, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania
Teens and Seat Belt Use: What Makes Them Click?

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States, but seatbelt use among this group remains unacceptably low. Data shows that a majority of teen drivers and passengers killed in crashes were not wearing their seatbelts. Only 47 percent of the fatally injured drivers and 34 percent of passengers were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash. 
Seatbelt use has increased nationally, but lags behind among teens and young adults. So what factors contribute to seatbelt usage among younger drivers? 

To answer that question, researchers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from 38 states using the 2011 state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBSs). The surveys contain information about age, sex, ethnicity and five substance use behaviors. Researchers explored whether seat belt use declined as substance use increased. Location, state laws, Graduated Driver Licensing programs and adult seatbelt usage were also factored into the study.

Not surprisingly, seat belt use increases in states that have made it a primary offense, meaning police officers can stop drivers and issue tickets for not wearing one. Seatbelt use was as least 10 percent lower in states where wearing one is a secondary offense, which means police an only issue tickets for failing to wear a seatbelt if the driver has been stopped for another offense.

Washington, D.C. and 34 states have primary offense seat belt laws, while 15 states have secondary offense laws.

The study found that teens and young adults who engage in substance use or risk taking behaviors including driving after drinking alcohol; riding with a driver who has been drinking alcohol; smoking cigarettes; using marijuana; and binge drinking were less likely to wear a seatbelt.

Adult seatbelt use also appears to be a factor. In states where less than 85 percent of adults report using a seatbelt, teens and young adults were significantly less likely to wear one. Usage is also lower in rural areas, compared to suburban and urban communities.
This study is available through ScienceDirect.

—Summary by Melissa Hayes. Researchers: Ruth A. Shults, Tamara M. Haegerich, Geeta Bhat, Xinjian Zhang,National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia