The National Institutes of Health is spending over $170,000 studying how to crack down on distracted pedestrians looking at their phones when crossing the street by sending people warning messages on their phones to look at while they cross the street.
The study, being conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also involves tracking what college students are doing on their smartphones when they are near an intersection.
Researchers said an uptick in pedestrian deaths is likely linked to increased cell phone use. The proposed solution is sending an alert to the pedestrian's phone, which would then prompt them to look at the phone just as they are about to cross a busy intersection.
"Unlike most medical conditions, the pedestrian injury rate is currently increasing in the United States," according to the grant for the project. "This project will study the efficacy of an intervention to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior using smartphone technology."
"Over 4,800 American pedestrians die annually, a figure that is currently increasing," the grant states. "One hypothesized reason for the increasing trend in pedestrian injuries and deaths is the role of mobile technology in distracting both pedestrians and drivers. Existing behavioral interventions to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior are few."
"We propose to develop and then evaluate Bluetooth beacon technology as a means to alert and warn pedestrians when they are approaching dangerous intersections, reminding them to attend to the traffic environment and cross the street safely rather than engaging with mobile technology," the grant explains.
Bluetooth technology will be placed at intersection corners that will send college students an alert through an app, with a message, sound, or vibrating warning. The app might also freeze a users cell phone screen when crossing the street.
"[F]or research purposes, the app also will download data concerning the users' behavior while crossing the street," the grant states, including if a user stops using their phone, puts it in their pocket, or leaves music on.
The project began on Sept. 1 and has received $172,321 from taxpayers. Research will continue through August 2020.